Butler County preparing offices for re-entry

Butler County government services have never ceased during the six weeks since stay-at-home orders were issued but now officials are preparing for a possible influx of visitors to the Government Services Center and Administration Building.

Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday loosened restrictions that have kept most people quarantined for more than a month. Workers wearing masks are recommended but not yet mandated and taking employee temperatures is considered a best practice, according to the new guidelines.

Butler County employees have been working throughout the crisis but many who could have been doing so remotely. County Administrator Judi Boyko said she and her staff are proceeding with a re-entry plan when staff returns, including possibly staggering work hours.

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“We’re just looking at different creative ways that we can continue to do the public’s work most effectively and cost-effectively,” she told the Journal-News. When talking about keeping staff and the public safe, she said: “It’s definitely a delicate balance we have to reach.”

The plan also includes providing forehead thermometers for all the county officeholders who ask, scouring and sanitizing all county-owned buildings and exploring how they might check for fevers — a key coronavirus symptom — among the visiting public, among other ways to keep everyone safe.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones has installed a device that allows him to check the temperature of every person who enters the jail. Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said during the weekly meeting Monday she wants to consider placing similar devices at the entrances to GSC.

The sheriff is using the devices for free right now because the company is letting them demo the machines during the pandemic. But if they had to pay the price would be $13,000, said Major Mike Craft.

“It seems to me that it makes sense to put something like that at what I believe will end up being two entrances to this building and letting the security office monitor that on the second floor…,” Carpenter said. “If we get the coronavirus in the building going from employee to employee it’s going to cost us a lot more.”

There are five entrances to the GSC but Boyko said they are considering limiting the number of access points and there would be a cost to having staff monitor the devices. Given the uncertain state of the county budget now, because of the loss of sales tax and other revenues during the pandemic, Boyko said this matter must be given careful consideration.

Carpenter’s fellow commissioners saw some potential issues with the use of the devices.

“Let’s not forget, even if there were people coming in this public place with temperatures the commissioners at this point cannot make a law to have them removed,” Commissioner T.C. Rogers said.

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He said he wants to make sure they have the proper authority to bar entrance to the building by potentially sick people.

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser told the Journal-News the commissioners would be well within their rights to monitor visitors’ temperatures, even if there might be civil liberty concerns.

“Anytime you have a social emergency that impinges on freedoms that we ordinarily have, you’re going to have somebody complaining about an effect of the safety devises that are put in place, they’re going to complain about the effect on civil liberties,” Gmoser said. “I’m well aware of those concerns but I’m also well aware that this particular virus, for the vulnerable could easily be a death sentence.”

The latest numbers from the Butler County General Health District showed a fifth person has died from the coronavirus, there were 252 confirmed cases as of Tuesday and five probable cases.

At the onset of the shelter in place orders, various departments and office implemented steps like leaving boxes in the lobby of the Administration Building for people to drop off documents, to limit staff contact. Others like Job and Family Services were able to set staff up at home, about 90 percent of the Children Services workers have been working remotely.

JFS Executive Director Bill Morrison set up a “lobby” in a conference room on the first floor of the GSC to assist residents with food stamps and other public assistance. He was hoping to cut down on the number of people using the elevator to get to his offices on the eighth floor.

At this point he has no plans to curtail these practices.

“For the foreseeable future we are,” Morrison said. “We’re working right now on a re-entry plan for staff that I don’t expect to move forward with very quickly, just because our staff are being so successful with the work from home there is not a sense of urgency about it. Plus the governor’s plan still indicates that those who can work from should work from home.”

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