Courthouse access restricted

Starting Wednesday morning, access to the Allen County courthouse will be monitored and limited to the north entrance

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March 17, 2020 - 4:42 PM

Starting Wednesday morning, access to the Allen County courthouse will be monitored and limited to the north entrance, following a decision by commissioners and department heads.

Anyone entering the courthouse will be screened with a series of health questions developed by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) linked to the COVID-19 virus.

Those on courthouse business may also be screened with a digital thermometer gun.

Commissioner Jerry Daniels said “We strongly encourage courthouse customers to only come for essential business, [and] strongly encourage them to do business over the phone, [by] email, regular mail [and to]  limit their exposure here. … Don’t come to the courthouse unless you have to.”

County counselor Bob Johnson, Jr., also asked residents to self-screen as much as possible.

The courthouse will remain open for the time being, though this is subject to change.

“This is a very fluid situation,” Daniels said.

All nonessential county meetings will be canceled, so residents will want to call ahead if they are unsure whether something is taking place.

Another decision facing commissioners was whether to declare a county-wide disaster in response to COVID-19, following the state-wide declaration put forth by Gov. Laura Kelly.

The declaration would last 60 days as opposed to the usual seven days.

A declaration would also trigger the county’s “EOP” or Emergency Operations Plan, which communications director Angie Murphy said could potentially help recoup costs and cover legal liabilities for the county moving forward.

Individual counties must declare independently of the state as a whole, and according to Murphy, about 20 counties have already declared, including Bourbon, Franklin, Greenwood and Butler.

Health department director Rebecca Johnson also encouraged Allen County to declare, said Murphy.

“We need to consider it,” said Commissioner Daniels, adding that a declaration of this kind should not legally restrict the movement of residents.

Commissioners decided not to declare a county-wide emergency disaster at this time and to continue to monitor the situation. However, a special meeting may be held to make a declaration moving forward.

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” said commissioner Bill King. “We want to do what’s reasonable, but not overreact.”

“We are taking precautions. We probably should have canceled this meeting,” remarked Daniels. “Not that it’s non-essential. I think that we’re all important but we could have done this by phone call. We need to consider that in the future.”

County Clerk Sherri Riebel said she was concerned about the April 7 election regarding continuation of the hospital sales tax. Advanced voting was scheduled to begin Wednesday.

After the meeting, the date was changed to June 9.

Sheriff Bryan Murphy noted that programs and visitation at the jail have been suspended, but no other major policy changes have been enacted.

Following decisions by Gov. Kelly at the state level, commissioners voted to approve group health insurance coverage for county employees in the case of testing for or treatment of COVID-19.

Allen County is still delivering food via Meals on Wheels, Riebel said, adding that the hot meals are provided by the county.

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