As Directed Health Measures from Governor Pete Ricketts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 begin to change, the Box Butte County Commissioners are taking steps to ensure public safety while preparing to reopen the courthouse to the public.

At their meeting on Monday, the commissioners discussed the options to reopen the county’s facilities. They heard from various elected officials about their concerns before making a decision, taking into account steps other Panhandle counties are taking to reopen.

“It sounds like June 1 is the date a lot of people are aiming at to open courthouses,” said Commissioner Susan Lore. “I don’t know if that’s something Box Butte County wants to consider. The courthouse can open, but each one of the offices can do what they want to. It’s a matter of everyone kind of coordinating what they’re going to do.”

County Assessor Michelle Robinson agreed that reopening the Box Butte County Courthouse coincides with the expiration of some of the Directed Health Measures.

“I think we should still follow CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines as far as social distancing and request that when the public is entering offices they practice the social distancing and preferably wear masks,” said Robinson.

County Clerk Judy Messersmith said that throughout the closure, her office has still allowed people in the building to file marriage licenses and other documents. County Treasurer Valery Bell said June 1 would work for her office.

“As far as my office goes, my plan is no more than four people in the office at a time, and that’s what can be helped at the counter,” said Bell. “As far as people hanging out, or loitering, or whatever you want to call it, waiting your turn in line, I know that’s what has a lot of counties questioning things right now.”

Bell suggested limiting seating space in the courthouse to prevent large gatherings of people.

“I don’t know if we can move those (seats) out of sight, out of mind for a while, and space single chairs out for people to sit in,” Bell said. “That’s one more thing that has to be sanitized.”

Jeane Warfield, who provides maintenance at the courthouse, said that since the closure, she has been working hard to keep sanitizing products in stock. She asked the commissioners about rationing the products provided to the offices.

“There’s a lot of clean up to do, yet,” said Warfield. “I’m having trouble keeping up with the sanitizing products: hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes and stuff like that. Do I have the right to limit what I give each office? Because I can’t keep enough ahead right now.”

Chairman Mike McGinnis said offices should not take majority shares of the stock of cleaning products in order to make them last longer.

“The big thing is the disinfectant Clorox wipes,” Warfield said. “The first couple of weeks of this, I had an office going through that and a lot of bleach, and it was overbearing, really. That, to me, excess use of some of that is just as bad as not using it at all.”

Raquel Oligmueller, with the Box Butte County Clerks Office asked the commissioners about providing hand sanitizing stations at the entryways of each office.

“I don’t know if we have the right to ask people to wear a mask before they enter the office, but if they could at least sanitize their hands,” said Oligmueller. “Especially with our office where they’re touching a lot of the books and everything. While we clean the table before people come and after they leave, it’d be nice if they could be required to sanitize their hands before entering.”

Bell said in other county courthouses, hand sanitizing stations are provided, and people are requested to use them prior to entering an office.

Commissioner Doug Hashman asked about the availability of the stations as the demand remains high. Lore asked Warfield to order as many sanitizing products as possible prior to June 1 and to check. Warfield said if the stations were available, she would order one for each doorway.

Lore made a motion to open the courthouse on June 1 and to equip each county office with hand sanitizer. Bell asked the commissioners again about limiting the seating available. Hashman said he would like to see some chairs available for people who may have trouble standing in line for long periods of time.

Hashman seconded the motion. The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the motion.

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