The Washington County Courthouse and all other county offices and affiliated buildings will be closed to the public effective immediately until May 6.
The Washington County Board of Supervisors approved the closure during a special meeting Thursday afternoon, citing the rising number of cases of COVID-19 in the county in a press release after the meeting. Washington County has 19 cases of COVID-19, 17 of which are tied to Carter Place, an assisted living facility in Blair.
On March 23, the county began restricting access to the courthouse and other facilities, but Supervisor Jay Anderson, District-5 Blair, said the closure ensures the county is taking steps to do all that it can to prevent the spread of the disease also known as novel coronavirus.
“Our main concern is for those citizens that come in, and then for the critical office employees,” Anderson said during the meeting. “Even though we’ve tried to limit access, it’s become almost impossible to limit access of people coming in. I think if something was to happen, did we do as much as we could to try to protect those citizens coming in and those employees that are working there?”
Chairman Steve Dethlefs, District 1-Fort Calhoun, said the decision to close the courthouse and other county facilities was made after consulting with elected officials, Washington County Emergency Manager Dan Douglas and health officials.
The press release sent after the meeting indicated the county would continue to operate with only essential personnel. Dethlefs said employees will still report to work.
“It’s open for evaluation as we go further on down the path on how we’re operating, but at this point, it’s business as usual for employees,” he said.
Anyone who has business to do with the county is asked to do so over phone, email or regular mail.
“It’s worth noting…that the executive orders from the governor have given a lot of leeway for expired license plates, expired driver’s licenses, all those things have been given 30 days beyond the Directed Health Measure before they’re considered expired,” said Supervisor Lisa Kramer, District-2 Kennard.
Dethlefs said business that can’t be done over phone, email or regular could possibly happen at the back east door of the courthouse.
“We really don’t want people in the building, but these handoffs that can happen outside the door, we’re OK with that,” he said. “A lot of it can be done by mail, we recognize a lot of it can’t. We’re leaving it up to the elected offices to figure out how they can resolve that problem.”
The only exception for public access is for individuals who have been ordered to appear for a court proceeding, but those individuals are asked to call ahead to see if their cases have been continued or if there are no other means available for their appearance since the exception may change.
“You don’t want to be on the side of the fence to say, ‘I wish we had,’” Dethlefs said. “I think it was eye-opening the events that happened in the county over the last several days, week.”