Contested race for O'Brien County sheriff

O’Brien County voters may cast absentee ballots in person on the south side of the courthouse in downtown Primghar through June 1. The building has been closed to the public since March 17 due to the coronavirus pandemic; however, it may tentatively reopen on June 10.

PRIMGHAR—O’Brien Coun­­ty has set a tentative reopening date of Wednesday, June 10, for its courthouse.

The board of supervisors approved a reopening plan for the downtown Primghar building after hearing from county emergency management agency coordinator Jared Johnson during its meeting held electronically Tuesday, May 12.

The courthouse has been closed to public foot traffic since March 17 because of the coronavirus pandemic, but its offices have remained staffed and busy.

The county’s phased ap­­proach to reopening the structure to the public will feature three parts:

  • Limited access, with visitors’ access by appointment only.
  • An open east entrance, with mitigation strategies maintained.
  • A return to “the new normal,” with regular operations.

“You’ve probably seen ‘the new normal’ has been referenced by other agencies as well,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of mitigation strategies that people may maintain for years following this disaster.”

He noted if the county grants public access to its courthouse on June 10 as intended, guidelines for the first phase of the reopening plan would be followed, including:

  • Employees who have been working remotely will return to their respective offices.
  • Wearing of face masks by employees inside the building will be at the discretion of each office leader.
  • The supervisors’ meetings will continue to be conducted electronically.

“The public is encouraged to use alternate methods to do business with the courthouse offices, such as online, by phone or use the outside drop box,” Johnson said.

“That was one great idea that was brought up by several department heads,” he said. “There’s high interest in having a permanent drop box.”

He noted the courthouse will remain locked and the public will be allowed to enter by appointment only under the first phase of the building’s reopening plan.

“A courthouse staff member will allow visitor entry at the east entrance,” Johnson said.

A list of the county offices’ phone numbers will be provided at the courthouse’s east and west entrances. They also are available online at www.obriencounty.org.

The building’s east entrance will be used for general public entry, while its west entrance will be for employees only under the first phase of the courthouse’s reopening plan.

“Visitors are recommended to wear a face mask in the courthouse,” Johnson said. “If you require visitors to wear a mask, you’d also have to make them available.”

He noted only one visitor per office at a time will be allowed under the first phase of the building’s reopening plan, except for one situation.

“A parent or guardian would be allowed if there is a juvenile obtaining a driver’s license or a permit in the treasurer’s office,” Johnson said.

Visitors to the courthouse will be highly encouraged to leave the building in a timely manner after they have completed their county business.

The courthouse’s open hours will be 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. under the first phase of the building’s reopening plan, with no new visitors after 3:30 p.m.

“That way, the people that are here will be able to finish their business,” Johnson said. “It would also leave additional time for cleaning at the end of the day.”

In a follow-up e-mail, he noted the supervisors are planning to review the tentative reopening date during their meeting the week before June 10 due to the unknowns associated with the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We are planning to watch for changes and monitor updates closely,” Johnson said. “Items within the plan may need to be changed if our COVID-19 situation worsens or improves. We are going to strongly encourage the continued use of providing services over the phone/online, if possible.”

In other coronavirus-re­­lated news, the supervisors approved including the purchase of respiratory protection equipment as an approved expense of the ambulance funds for the county’s cities with ambulance teams beginning July 1 this year.