Courthouse access to expand next week as COVID-19 cases slow

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Dickinson County Board of Supervisors voted to begin the second phase of its plan to gradually reopen the Dickinson County Courthouse amid the COVID-19 pandemic. County business was to be conducted by appointment or remotely during the first phase but, starting July 13, no appointments will be needed to enter the courthouse. The decision comes after local confirmed cases have numbered a little more than 50 in the past two weeks.

Visitors will continue to be screened at the courthouse's west entrance, and masks will be required inside the building. Dickinson County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Ehret said the county already has masks and hand sanitizer ready at the door along with thermometers to screen visitors. Supervisor Tim Fairchild said he feels the use of masks in the courthouse will be key in minimizing the respiratory virus' spread within the building. County officials likely a rotating roster of volunteer staff members from various departments will keep an eye out for overcrowded areas and other concerns during the upcoming phase.

Ehret, who helped develop the courthouse's three-phase plan, said some thought was given to waiting on the second phase until after a possible, post-holiday-weekend spike in cases. However, he said the Dickinson County Emergency Management Commission felt such a delay might open the door for too long a delay with Labor Day and other upcoming events. Ehret harkened back to Fairchild's own words from mid-May "Respect is utmost at this point. There is no room for fear."

"I think we're doing that," Ehret said. "But, at the same time, I think we have to respect that this is the public's building, we're public people and we're working for the public."

The courthouse closed to the public on March 17, and the supervisors approved a dateless three phase plan in April. The public was allowed in the courthouse by appointment only under the first phase, which began in early June. Only one visitor was allowed inside at one time, save for minors with business at the drivers license station. The plan's third phase will be a return to business as it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but no date has been set.

"The dates will depend on our cases and how well people behave," Ehret said in April.

Should the Lakes Area experience another major uptick in confirmed cases of COVID-19, the board of supervisors may consider returning to the plan's first phase.

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