County begins to discuss transition to reopening


County employees will soon start transitioning back to their offices, but county buildings will remain closed to the public, the Dubois County Commissioners decided Monday.

Commissioners President Chad Blessinger said the federal government is developing a plan states can use to start reopening their economy. And Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said Monday that the state will start reopening the economy in phases, which will be determined as time goes along, depending on the state’s COVID-19 numbers.

Blessinger thinks the county should start looking at similar plans.

“I’m not in favor of removing the emergency declaration. I think it’s still serving its purpose. We’ll keep taking that day by day like we are doing,” he said. “What I don’t want to do is keep paralyzing things by saying we’ll wait two more weeks. We’ll never get things reopened.”

Blessinger wants the commissioners to look at a phase-in process. He’s concerned about how all this is hurting businesses’ and citizens’ financial state. “I think we have reasonable and responsible business owners that are hurting because they feel very constrained of their business operations,” he said. “I want to support them reopening.”

Commissioner Nick Hostetter said the county should follow the state’s direction in this matter. “They have a lot of experts working at the state level. We probably should take their advice,” he said. Social distancing works. It’s slows the spread, but it’s also giving everybody a small sense of security, like, ‘Hey, nobody is getting sick, so let’s just go back to normal. Not many are getting sick because people are staying at home. So my opinion is to wait and follow the state’s standards.”

Emergency Management Director Tammy Humbert agreed. “Our numbers are lower because people are taking this seriously,” she said. “Our government was showing that we need to take this seriously, and we’re doing the social distancing.”

Her biggest fear is that once the county says its open, residents may think that things are back to normal, and they won’t take the precautions.

Commissioner Elmer Brames supported starting to look at plans, but said the county should follow the state’s direction. “I don’t feel that we need to do something different here in Dubois County than what they do in Daviess County or Warrick County,” he said. “Let’s follow the guidelines of the state."

He said that keeping the county buildings closed to the public is best.

“It needs to take place slowly,” he said. “For example, how we allow customers and clients to come into the courthouse and interact with the staff, so that we are not spreading [the virus] back and forth. The distancing, [having] glass windows [as barriers], all those are important, and we realize that more now than we did a month ago. We can do this in a responsible manner and open things up for business — not the way it was before, but in the new normal.”

County Highway Superintendent Steve Berg also cautioned about opening the buildings to the public at this time. “If we open up all the doors, it puts the idea out there that everything is fine and it’s back to normal,” he said.”I really don’t believe that the normal we knew before is going to be the normal we move on with.”

Humbert said the county has to continue to watch its number of virus cases.

“Our numbers are growing,” she said. “And I don’t think we are at our surge from everything that I’m being told from the health department. We’re finally getting some good testing going on in the county and the results are coming back within three or four days, and that’s going to make a big difference on what your final decision will be.”

The commissioners decided to have staff back in the offices by May 5. That transition will be done at the discretion of the department heads, who will determine which employees should be back in the offices and which need to remain working at home.

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