County outbreak response continues to evolve
April 9, 2020
At a special meeting on Thursday, the county’s elected officials gathered to consider new actions related to the COVID-19 outbreak in Wyoming and across the world. With the courthouse already locked down except by appointment and employees maintaining separation through telework, attention turned to financial needs both personal and county-related.
The first item of business was to propose a budget amendment to transfer $100,000 from unanticipated revenues to the federal grant budget to fund expenses related to the outbreak. The money is funded via the federal government, said County Attorney Joe Baron.
A total of $25,000 has been received so far, said County Clerk Linda Fritz, but to avoid having to pass a slew of amendments as more comes in, “We’re just going to go ahead and plug it in at $100,000.”
Baron asked if the federal grant is to be administered by Crook County Public Health as the designated incident command for the county.
“That is my understanding,” said Fritz. Baron requested this be put on the budget amendment for clarity.
Baron then presented the county’s COVID-19 Leave Policy, a law and benefits effective only from the beginning of April through to the end of the year. It provides additional benefits for the county’s employees in response to the unprecedented situation the outbreak has created.
The policy expands upon the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act All, giving employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to look after a minor child because their school or place of care has closed. The first ten days are unpaid (though this can be substituted with accrued vacation, personal or other forms of leave), after which payment will be two thirds of an employee’s usual pay up to $200 per day.
The policy also states that employees will receive paid sick leave if they or a dependent are placed under a quarantine order, advised to self-quarantine by a healthcare provider, experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or must care for a child. Sick leave is also two thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay.
“All of these benefits are over and above and separate to the others…that we have, however there are some limitations,” said Baron.
Employees are not entitled to the additional benefits if they are still on the payroll, he said, for instance if they are working from home. Its use will therefore likely be limited, Baron said, as most offices have set up the ability to telework.
The policy also confirms that the county health insurance plan will provide coverage for COVID-19 testing, including the cost of a provider, urgent care center and emergency room visits. Coverage must be provided at no cost to the consumer.
A motion passed to ratify the policy and allow Commissioner Kelly Dennis to sign it. Dennis commented that it will affect all departments and entities, including boards.
Additional matters that required attention included how to conduct the regular monthly meetings of the County Commissioners. It was decided that teleconference would be used and, to ensure the meetings remain open to the public, the access code will be published on the website.
It was also decided that department heads and board chairmen would be asked to provide their regular reports via email, to limit the time required to conduct the meeting.
With all but the north door now locked to outside access, Sara Fleenor of the Extension Office requested permission to use the door to the basement to get to her office as she does not have a key for the other doors. Maintenance Foreman Larry Schommer confirmed he does have additional keys available, which Dennis said he would prefer as it would be a “simpler matter”.
Commissioner Jeanne Whalen further commented that the use of one door means it’s possible to tell exactly who is coming into the building.
Fritz described measures her office has taken to protect staff and the public. “Everyone needs to do what they can do reduce their exposure,” responded Whalen.
The courthouse lockdown has been implemented “until further notice” said Baron. Dennis stated that the county will wait for guidance from the state to take further action.
Clerk of District Court Tina Wood described the issues she faces conducting court business without visitation being allowed in the building. The commissioners’ order does not limit the court, said Baron; Wood explained that her concern is that others in the building understand why visitors are being permitted to come inside.
Also regarding court business, Baron announced that a couple of bench trials are coming up in April. It is anticipated that witnesses will be asked to stay outside until they are escorted in and out, and the other people in attendance will be the defendant and their attorney.
The plan, said Baron, is to let people know what is happening and what traffic they are likely to see. He and Circuit Court are still trying to figure out how to do that, he said, “and at the same time be safe and be outside that six foot distance”.
To enable the offices to continue conducting business, Schommer was asked to investigate the possibility of installing plexi-glass sneeze guards at the office windows. County Assessor Theresa Curren pointed out that this will require a plan for such things as access to the lobby and restrooms.
As long as such expenses fall outside regularly budgeted items, Emergency Management Coordinator Ed Robinson suggested there is a possibility of reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for COVID-19 related expenses. He recommended recording all expenses as they come up.
“This is an evolving situation,” said Dennis as the meeting came to a close. The county will need to continue looking at how things are changing and what can be done in the best interests of the community. “We need to do the best we can,” he said.