County strongly recommends masks for courthouse employees

Wednesday, November 4, 2020
County offices were fitted with countertop Plexiglas shields in late July, and a recent vote by the Dickinson County Supervisors established a policy which strongly recommends courthouse employees wear masks. (Photo by Seth Boyes)

The public has been required to wear face coverings while visiting the Dickinson County Courthouse for several months, but the Dickinson County Board of Supervisors recently approved a policy which strongly recommends but does not mandate courthouse employees do the same, even when they can remain 6 feet apart. The new policy was approved last week and went into effect Thursday after a Wednesday meeting between the board and the county department heads.

Exposure to positive cases of COVID-19 has been reported in the Dickinson County Treasurer's Office, Sheriff's Office and the Planning and Zoning Office, which shares its space with the County Engineer's Office.

"The cases we've had so far have not come from within here," County Supervisor Kim Wermersen said ahead of last week's vote.

He went on to say he felt social distancing was the right choice when it came to employees providing essential services in the courthouse, and he felt the alternative would be to close the courthouse to the public again, as they did after Gov. Kim Reynolds' public health disaster declaration in mid-March. Other board members said the courthouse's current ventilation system has the potential to carry airborne viral particles farther than the standard 6-foot distance recommended by health officials. The board voted Oct. 20 to purchase a system to purify the recycled air in the courthouse. The system will cost a little more than $71,000 but will be covered by the $218,797 allocated to the county by the state as part of the federal CARES Act earlier this year.

Supervisor Board Chairman Bill Leupold said he felt last Wednesday's remote meeting with the department heads went smoothly, and the group was generally in agreement with the policy.

"I pointed out how masks really don't protect you from COVID they protect other people," Leupold said.

The Iowa Department of Public Health recently updated its recommendations to allow a person to avoid two weeks of quarantine after being exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19, if both parties are wearing masks properly. Leupold said, while the county policy doesn't mandate masks, it's possible employees will choose to wear masks in order to avoid potentially losing two weeks of work.

"That's all I'm looking for to keep my employees healthy and to keep the courthouse running," Leupold said. "If we've got people getting COVID, it's going to be a 10 to 14 day quarantine, and I could just see it recycling 14 days here, 14 days there. Pretty soon our workers are going to run out of sick leave and personal time, and it's going to start coming out of their pockets. Plus, our citizens are going to be lacking services."

Plexiglas shields were also installed on the countertops of the courthouse offices as well as the Dickinson County Nature Center the first being put in place in late July. Discussion about the need for shields began in mid-April. Alissa Holtz, director of IT at the courthouse, said the various offices considered several options, but none were customizable for their spaces and each option would have required substantial drilling to secure the Plexiglas to the counters. Holtz said the county decided in late July to have Supervisor Tim Fairchild's business, Fairchild Welding and Manufacturing in Terril, produce the sheilds. Fairchild's company had created the initial prototype shield, and it ultimately made enough for 10 different offices.

"We are grateful that Heartland Glass was able to provide us with all the Plexiglas very quickly and fortunate to have a local business like Fairchild Manufacturing that was able to take the time to build the shields not only for Dickinson County but a few other area businesses so quickly," Holtz said.

She said the county's shields cost a total of about $17,000 and will also be covered by the county's CARES Act funding.

"I see these shields being around for a while as the offices like them, but they can be easily removed if an office decides," Holtz said."Storage will be easy and take up little space so they can be kept around for future needs."

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