O’Brien County mulls opening courthouse

No timetable has been set for reopening the O’Brien County Courthouse in downtown Primghar. The board of supervisors discussed that topic during its regular meeting, which was held electronically Tuesday morning, April 21, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

PRIMGHAR—Coronavirus-testing strike teams have been sent out across Iowa.

That is what the O’Brien County Board of Supervisors learned from county emergency management agency coordinator Jared Johnson during its regular meeting held electronically Tuesday, April 28, in Primghar.

“If a need arises at a location that’s high risk or a location where there’s a potential outbreak, we could potentially ask for the assistance of a strike team,” Johnson said.

The strike teams are composed of Iowa National Guard members, Iowa Department of Public Health staff members and representatives of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office.

“They could come to a location and assist with mass testing to try to get the outbreak under control and also to identify who has all been impacted by the outbreak,” Johnson said.

Several strike teams already have spread out across the state to offer assistance to areas of high risk due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We are starting to see more community spread in northwest Iowa and also in the neighboring states, which is a concern,” Johnson said.

He went over the latest coronavirus recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that take into account people who may be asymptomatic — showing no symptoms — and contagious.

“If you go to grocery stores, retail stores, if you go back to church when churches reopen — wear a mask to help decrease the potential for spreading,” Johnson said.

“It can be hard to know if someone does have it, especially knowing now that there are individuals that may be asymptomatic,” he said.

He noted the variety of businesses and other places that have been closed temporarily due to the coronavirus pandemic are going to have to reopen at some point in time.

“A lot of places are going to have to decide how they’re to reopen,” Johnson said. “Then people are also going to have to decide what measures they’re going to take to help protect themselves when they’re out in the public.

“My recommendation is going to be for individuals to wear masks if they’re in areas where social distancing is tough,” he said. “The virus itself — with no vaccine, we could be facing this for months.”

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, O’Brien County had 15 confirmed COVID-19 cases, as of Friday afternoon, May 8.

Four of the people who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in the county have recovered and 11 are self-isolating at home, according to the O’Brien County Public Health office.

Johnson offered his personal recommendation on what the county should do when it considers reopening its courthouse.

The Primghar building has been closed to public foot traffic since March 17, although county offices have remained staffed and busy with work.

“Continue the way that we’re operating right now at least through May 15 and then re-evaluate at that time to decide what’s best to do next,” Johnson said.

“With the additional community spread that we’re seeing, I just want to try to limit the amount of exposure,” he said.


In other agenda items on Tuesday, April 28, the O’Brien County Board of Supervisors authorized board chair pro tem Nancy McDowell to sign a grant agreement with the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office for the “Vote Safe Iowa” initiative.

The initiative is supposed to make it safe and easy for Iowa voters to cast ballots in the June 2 primary election without having to risk exposure to COVID-19 by encouraging them to vote absentee by mail.

County auditor Barb Rohwer noted the $3,000 grant is to be used “to prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus domestically or internationally for the 2020 federal election cycle.”

“I’m supposed to have a report to them after the primary the following week,” she said. “We’re supposed to use what we’re going to use of this on the primary.”

Rohwer noted the secretary of state’s office plans to send gloves, face masks and disinfectant spray to county auditor’s offices across Iowa.

“We can use this money for advertising because we’re changing our precinct locations,” she said.

The county’s only polling places for the primary election will be the Primghar Community Building and the Crossroads Pavilion event center in Sheldon.

Rohwer mentioned assigning one person to handle opening and closing the front door to each facility on Election Day to help control the flow of people.

“I probably will have a person that is there with the doors and maybe constantly wiping down things to keep things disinfected,” she said. “My understanding is, we can use some of this money for that as well.”