Access to courthouse will continue to be restricted until February 2

Benton County officials meet in Vinton.

By Jim Magdefrau

VINTON – Access to the Benton County Courthouse will continue to be restricted until Feb. 2, 2021, after a meeting of county officials Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, at the courthouse in Vinton. Access has been restricted since spring due to Covid-19.

Benton County Public Health Director Katie Cox started the meeting by pointing out that numbers are increasing since they last time they met. She also explained the new mask guidelines given by the governor the night before.

As Benton County Attorney David Thompson came into the meeting, he urged Supervisors Richard Primmer and Tracy Seeman to wear their masks or shields, as per the governor’s orders.

Cox continued to explain distancing and other restrictions for bars and restaurants, fitness centers, and guidelines for hospitals. She also outlined gathering restrictions.

“Our numbers are just huge. We’re really getting a lot of cases,” Cox said. She urged the use of masks, distancing, hand washing and quarantining. Anytime in public places, people need to be masking.

Thompson has been working on a policy. Officials reviewed the policy for Virginia Gay Hospital, Vinton, as well as department of public health recommendations on length of quarantining, and criteria for when to come back to work, such as fever. There was discussion on quarantining for 10 or 14 days, and whom are considered critical employees. There was also talk on how to handle citizens who bring their kids into the courthouse.

Thompson also stressed the need for people in the courthouse to be heavily invested and onboard with this, through sanitation and hygiene.

Supervisor Gary Bierschenk asked why it was getting worse. Cox said people were getting lax. It’s getting colder and people are gathering inside. There are people not masking or taking those measures, or are not taking it seriously. After any kind of mass gathering, they will see numbers go up. Numbers might also go up as winter comes as well as gatherings for the holidays.

Sheriff Ron Tippett advised he didn’t see any reason to change what the courthouse is currently doing.

Cox advised that numbers will incline if people don’t take precautions. She urged the offices to avoid close contacts.

Thompson recommended keeping the current courthouse policy the same, with the exception that everyone coming into the courthouse needs to wear a mask, unless there’s a specific reason to take the mask off, such as a passport photo. By next week, he hopes to have a quarantine policy to consider, based on the policy from Virginia Gay. He also recommended keeping the policy through Feb. 2.

Because of the size of the office and its ventilation, Thompson also recommended moving supervisors’ meeting to a larger room.

The board is staying with the current policy through Feb. 2, and that all people entering the courthouse must wear a mask.

Other business

The board discussed CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding for local public health. The money goes to emergency medical response, emergency transportation, employee public safety measures, and expenses for quarantining individuals. The money must be used by Dec. 31 or it has to be sent back, according to Auditor Hayley Rippel. The total fund is $24,384.

A land use hearing was held for Robert and Christina Maynard for land in Section 27, Benton Township. The land use change was approved. This is for a single-family dwelling.

A land use hearing was held for RJ Meyers for land in Section 36, Cedar Township. The land use change was approved. He wants to convert a pavilion by a pond into a residence. This will be his summer home.

The board approved purchasing a vehicle for the rural access center. This is a used car for $9,977.

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