Commissioners to keep government building open, fund $1M for coronavirus
(March 20, 2020) The Worcester County Commissioners declared a local state of emergency Tuesday in response to the COVID-19, or novel Coronavirus outbreak. During their meeting that same day, they agreed to allocate $1 million from the fund balance for related expenditures.
The federal government could reimburse that money. Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins said that money could be used by the board of education for disinfecting the schools or for transportation costs.
Billy Birch, director of emergency services, said some critical needs will go through the health department and some through the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. The county may be charged for some things obtained through the management agency, such as gloves, masks and gowns, according to Birch.
The commissioners also moved to keep the county government building open to public access, with the addition of strict guidelines from emergency services and the health department. County Commissioner Jim Bunting said that the building needed to stay open to keep construction going.
“I think we’re running around screaming that the sky is falling,” Bunting said. “I don’t think we need to close the building to the public. If we do, I want to know how we’re going to handle building permits, inspections, plan reviews, to continue with that. We have people out there in the middle of stuff and bringing new stuff in.”
When Commissioners Bud Church and Diana Purnell suggested coming in by appointment or completing permit applications and plans online, Commissioners Bunting and Joseph Mitrecic immediately shot down the idea, saying that it doesn’t work like that.
“You can’t have a builder out there that’s dug a foundation and needs an inspection and has to make an appointment and he can’t pour it and then it gets rained on, he’s got to re-dig it,” Bunting said.
He added that the building industry is booming and needs to continue.
“The building industry, like all the other industries, is going to have to change because of what’s happening,” Purnell said.
Mitrecic said that the appointment idea is complicated because builders in Ocean City typically have to make appointments a week in advance.
“I do have concerns, and to be honest with you, it’s only for our employees here in the building that we’re allowing what could possibly be the introduction of a virus in the building, which unfortunately, given the size and proximity of people working together, could spread fairly quickly,” Mitrecic said.
He pointed out that a federal or state mandate could take the issue out of the county’s hands.
Commissioner Chip Bertino moved to keep the building open to the public, but under strict guidelines. Somerset and Wicomico Counties have shut down their public buildings.
Birch said he received a copy of Wicomico’s emergency declaration that he could consult for guidelines. He suggested that if a person came to the building with a critical need, a county employee could come down and assess that need.
“Right now, when we let them in, it’s unfettered access,” Birch said. He advised limiting access to offices upstairs and to the county treasurer’s office, which has the most traffic.
In Wicomico, builders are dropping off permits and plans and then communicating with department personnel over phone, text and email, according to Birch.
The motion to keep the building open under strict guidelines from emergency services and the health department passed. Visit co.worcester.md.us for updates.
For coronavirus questions and screening, call the health department during 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 410-632-1100 option #8. For general information about coronavirus, call the health department 24/7 at 410-632-4321 or visit worcesterhealth.org.