Can the county make the Purdy building safe?
With in-person meetings at the H.H. Purdy Building ahead, and a 10-day quarantine closure of the treasurer’s office just barely in the rear-view mirror, the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners examined coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) screening at county buildings.
What they found is an honor system with gaps.
At present, people entering the Purdy Building for business with most of the offices are asked to fill out a health questionnaire – online or on paper – before their appointment. Anyone showing up to pay a bill or get help at the treasurer’s office, however, is free of that step. They can come in and take care of their business at plexiglass-covered windows at the treasurer’s office.
“The old COVID-19 was hard to get, the new (U.K. variant of) COVID-19 is easier to get and we are talking about a lot of interaction,” District 2 Commissioner Thomas Bardwell said. “We’re bringing more people into the building.”
Those who answer the questionnaire honestly and are not infected, Bardwell said, could get infected walking among the people in the hallway who’ve come to the treasurer’s office, where no screening is required at all. Workers also come out of their offices, where they are somewhat protected, to go to the restroom and the breakroom and may, in the process, also mingle with those unscreened customers.
“You have to walk through that hallway among people who aren’t screened,” Bardwell said. “You see what I mean. It is a circle that does not end.”
Some of this concern is a reaction to the closure of the treasurer’s office for 10 quarantine days in March, the result of a COVID-19-positive job candidate spending the day in the office with all staff. The person had answered the questionnaire believing her symptoms were caused by her asthma and only later learned it was the virus. The concern also was based on tentative plans to return to in-person meetings in the commissioners’ room in the Purdy Building.
“I am concerned with bringing the board back in without a protocol more effective than this one,” Bardwell said. “And we’ve already had testimony it isn’t effective. No fingers are being pointed; this is just how we learn to create things to make it better.”
If they have an in-person meeting and there is an exposure, then anyone who was in the room would wind up under quarantine. “I am not sure how the health department would handle this,” Bardwell said.
Controller/administrator Clayette Zechmeister wasn’t sure what else could be done.
“It (the screening) is only as good as the questions and how you are going to answer them,” Zechmeister said. “I don’t know what we can do better. I am always open to suggestions.”
“It seems like there should be a higher standard,” Bardwell said, “based on the consequences of exposure.”
District 5 Commissioner Dan Grimshaw said other counties have temperature checks at the door and everyone has to pass that step in order to enter. Zechmeister said they don’t have anyone to monitor the door. “So anyone can just walk in,” she said.
“You can’t shut the door of the board room and we have no sergeant-at-arms (to control entry),” Bardwell said. “These are the questions that will need to be thought of and answered. … How do we prevent this?”
Bardwell said he thinks the county needs to start having a temperature check at the door. “It just seems like it would protect our county employees better than current screening.”
District 3 Commissioner Kim Vaughan said the county can look into on-entry temperature check systems, but he said that isn’t fail-safe since asymptomatic people won’t be stopped from coming in, and they can spread the virus as a result. The county, however, is looking to add such a system to the Purdy Building’s entrance.
“No matter what you do, you can put all of the protocols in place and it is going to be one of those things,” he said. “Sooner or later you just have to get back in the board room and you just have to get back and do what you have to do. I think we have to put all of the protocols in place that are helpful, but you are not going to stop it.”