It’s election and taxpaying time, an extremely busy time at the Adair County courthouse annex. County employees found themselves even busier this past week after learning that COVID-19 had entered their workplace.
A county employee who works in the annex tested positive for the novel coronavirus last Wednesday. County Judge Executive Gale Cowan set in motion plans to thoroughly clean the building and work with other officials in the building to organize ways to meet the needs of local citizens.
As a result, on Thursday Cowan was manning the front doors, stopping visitors as they entered the annex to let them know about the positive case. She offered to take their documents to the office they needed to visit or permitted people to enter and take care of business. Cowan said her goal was to make sure people were informed as they entered.
A deep cleaning crew cleaned the building on Saturday, but by Sunday Cowan announced more changes after another employee tested positive for COVID-19.
As of Tuesday, three employees have tested positive for the coronavirus and three others are in quarantine. None of the three people who tested positive have entered the building since the weekend cleaning, but there is no guarantee that other employees have not been exposed.
As a result, public access to the offices inside the building has been limited. Employees are working and business is being conducted. The fiscal court voted Tuesday to hire temporary staff so that someone is always at a table near the entrance to assist citizens as they enter.
There are several options for citizens, and all business continues to be conducted in all the county offices.
There are two drop boxes inside the vestibule at the front entrance. Tax bill payments may be left in one for the sheriff’s office. Adair County Sheriff Josh Brockman said the box is checked several times throughout the day and no payments are left in the drop box overnight.
“We want to provide as many options as possible to our residents for their safety and health as well as the employees of our office and county employees throughout the building,” Brockman said.
Brockman said his office has provided stamped envelopes at the drop box and taxpayers may put their payment with one of the envelopes and a receipt will be mailed to them. Tax payments may also be mailed to the sheriff’s office. On Tuesday alone, his office accepted more than $250,000 in tax payments either through the drop box or by mail.
Voting started Tuesday and voters are allowed to enter the building and head downstairs to vote. They must wear a face covering and follow CDC guidelines. Six voters will be allowed in the basement at one time and every voting station is sanitized between users.
As of 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, 280 people had already voted at the annex.
A second drop box is also available in the front vestibule for voters who have requested an absentee ballot. Completed ballots may be left in the drop box or mailed to the county clerk’s office.
Cowan said Tuesday they are taking extra precautions to keep citizens safe but to also be able to maintain a staff level that keeps offices operating during this busy time.
“Every office has staff here and we will come out and meet with someone, but we don’t want people in the building,” Cowan said.
Everyone has pitched in, Cowan said, and staff people from different office greeted visitors at the front door until an additional person could be hired.
“I’ve cleaned hand rails and the elevator three times today; I’m not going to ask somebody to do something I wouldn’t do,” Cowan said.
Some people have complained about being required to wear a mask to enter the building to vote, and Cowan said she understood the opinion that they have a right to make that choice.
“But on the other side of it, I think it’s our responsibility to keep our employees safe,” she said. “I see both sides of it. I think both sides are right, but everyone has got to come to a medium somewhere.
“If all of us get quarantined, we are going to be at home and nobody will be here to do anything for about two weeks, at least. The way we are doing things now we have some on quarantine – we are still getting things done. It may take us a little bit longer, but we are trying to get everything done we need to get done without having to shut it completely down.”
The annex is located at 424 Public Sq. and houses the county judge’s office, county clerk, PVA, sheriff and county attorney’s offices.
By Sharon Burton