Tuscola County offices will follow the lead of the courts.

That’s the decision controller/administrator Clayette Zechmeister made at Thursday’s Board of Commissioners meeting. After a month or more of discussions on how and when to reopen county offices to the public, Zechmeister is going to mimic the courts. And that decision will be determined by the state supreme court, which will be guided by Ann Hepfer, Tuscola County Health Department health officer.

The county’s offices have been closed since March, when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued her “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order closing all but essential services throughout Michigan in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

While Whitmer has been slowly reopening regions of the state to increased public use, Tuscola County’s courts remain opened to limited use in the first of five phases.

Whether or not the courts, and county offices, open any further will be decided, in part, by Hepfer. And she’s relying on the local numbers.

“I need to look at the data,” Hepfer said. “I need one more week of data before I can make the determination to open the courts in phase 2. I know that is not popular, but, on the other hand, it is for the safety of all of our workers, especially.”

By going in stages and steps, she said, health officials will know why the numbers are going up, especially if the county can keep monitoring things.

The national surge in new COVID-19 cases – mostly in southern states such as Florida, Arizona and Texas – has created some problems locally. Once again, there is a shortage of personal protection equipment. That is why some dentist’s offices are struggling to open, or stay open, and why health clubs and gyms can’t open either. None of them is able to get the PPE they need.

The tighter supply of PPE got Zechmeister to decide county offices should follow the guidance of the courts, and the health officer, and remain open in phase 1 only.

“Are we ready for phase 2 (at the courthouse)?” District 1 Commissioner Tom Young asked.

“We’re just waiting,” Circuit Court Judge Amy Grace Gierhart said.

Gierhart said Hepfer would have to sign off on any change before the state supreme court would issue a phase 2 order. And Hepfer is going to let the numbers guide her decision.

Zechmeister said the county is going to delay reopening all of the offices and will follow what the courts do.

“I think we sit tight and see what happens in the next 10 days,” she said. “And we’ll reassess it from there.”

Hepfer is especially watching for an increase in cases outside of long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, the jail and group homes. She’s particularly interested in how the virus affects migrant farm workers coming into the county from those southern states and whether there is a subsequent spike in positive COVID-19 cases.

Zechmeister decided to err on the side of caution.

“We cannot blame one population,” she said. “It is all of our responsibilities to be protected and to be safe.”

Mark Haney is a staff writer for The Advertiser. He can be reached at haney@tcadvertiser.com.