Wood, Commissioners Ponder Pandemic Strategy

By MARK EVANS

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County commissioners and provisional county health department administrator Jeanette Wood put their heads together during last Thursday’s commission meeting, to try and formulate strategy to thwart the local COVID-19 explosion.

“My opinion is that we’ve still got these people with the mentality that it’s a joke,” Presiding Commissioner Garry Nelson said. He said he knew of someone out in public the day before, whose wife was in quarantine.

“That’s what gets the spread,” Nelson said.

He related another story, in which a mechanic went to a store parking lot to assist a driver with a stalled car. When he started to get into the car, she warned him she had tested positive.

“That is ridiculous,” he said, referring to the quarantined individual going shopping, then   asked the rhetorical question, “What are you going to do about it?”

Wood is eager to see how the county numbers go, following Thanksgiving. If, by mid December, the numbers of active cases have dropped,  “then I feel like they listened about wearing a mask and not having these huge Thanksgiving get-togethers.”

“You get one of these idiots that knows that a close family member tested positive prior and comes to that 35-person gathering. All 35 are walking out of there with the virus.”

Little progress will really be made, Nelson said, “until people take it serious.”

He said he was going to call governor Mike Parson later that day, “and ask him to quit making this comment that he’s going to leave it up to county officials and local health departments to do mask mandates, because there is nothing authorizes us to do that. Quarantine, yes, but not wearing a mask.

“If he wants to make that statement, back it up with a written executive order,” Nelson said.

He said Friday that  he “got the run around” when he did try calling the governor’s office.

Wood, meanwhile, reported that the health department is now closed to the public on Fridays, so the staff can use Fridays to catch up on contact tracing.

The commission did take some action during the week, regarding the pandemic. At the Monday, Nov. 16 meeting, the commissioners voted to require face masks to be worn by anyone entering the courthouse.

She and Nelson also discussed disbursement of federal Caronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security [CARES] Act money.

Wood said the Kansas City Star had sent an email, asking whether the health department had gotten any CARES Act money. Wood said she told it had.

“Some counties haven’t cut loose yet with any money,” Wood said.

“I’ve been getting an email from a lady, saying, ‘Why do you never give the health department anything from the CARES Act?’”

Nelson reiterated that initially counties were told they could give lump sums to health departments and schools – 15 percent of their money to health departments and up to $500 per student.

However, attorneys warned against that, Nelson said. Instead, the county is requiring invoices from the health department, schools and other entities. The county then pays the invoice  with CARES Act money, rather than leaving it to the entity.

This is the safest course, he has argued, since it will be the county itself, held liable for paying back and money spent on items that auditors later deem to have been outside the ever-changing parameters of the act.

He also pointed out that not only will auditors comb through the records later, but that there are already auditors going over purchases now. A $35,000 purchase by the health department was recently flagged for questioning – although Nelson was sure it would be approved.

Nelson noted that many counties have given CARES Act money back to the federal government, rather than try to navigate the tricky legal pathways.

At the Monday, Nov. 16 meeting, CARES Act requests were approved for the sheriff’s department and Common Grounds Coffee house.

MEYER READY TO WRITE GENERATOR BID

County emergency management director Felix Meyer said he is ready to put together bid requests for the  emergency generator to be used in the courthouse. The county has been approved for a Hazard Mitigation Grant to get the generator.

In the event of a power outage, the generator would allow the elevator to work, as well as maintaining lights and security systems. It would also potentially save the day if an outage should ever take place on the day of an election.

Meyer said it would go into next year’s budget.

FRANKLIN BRIDGE SHEETING EXPECTED

Nelson called Pete Harnish, who will install metal grating on the old Franklin Bridge on the outskirts of St. Mary.

Harnish said he had spoken to the company in Texas that was shipping the steel grating and that it was expected to arrive later that day (Thursday).

The plan is  for Harnish, with help from county road crews, to install the grating in place of the waterlogged wooden planking that had just been removed from the floor of the 100-year-old bridge.

It is hoped that adding the steel plating will not only make it less susceptible to damage during flooding, but might increase its official weight limit.

The work was expected to take place the first part of this week.