Counties Take Their Lead From The State-Brevard NC
Last updated 3/25/2020 at 4:55pm
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During the Board of Commissioners meeting Monday, County Manager Jaime Laughter gave an overview on how counties operate in situations, such as the current COVID-19 crisis.
She said officials across the state have “never experienced something quite like COVID-19.”
The county’s response is dictated by policies at the state level and a county’s response is expected to be in line with any state directive.
The goal of the work currently being done, Laughter said, is to “slow the spread of COVID-19” and to allow the health care system time to handle patients seeking care. There is some flexibility in how a county can plan, because of the different demographics in counties, but a county must operate under state law parameters.
Ultimately, Laughter said, in this kind of scenario – a state of emergency – it requires all of the county’s public employees to be “all hands on deck.”
“Our community needs us more than they ever have,” she said.
County employees don’t get to work from home, because they are providing critical services, Laughter said.
Under the current state of emergency for the county, it establishes a command structure, includes the town of Rosman and City of Brevard, facilitates the coordination of Emergency Services to meet a variety of logistical needs, and allows for working in tandem with Public Health and having daily communication with State Public Health and State Emergency Management staff.
“It is critical in a pandemic that Public Health and Emergency Services work hand in hand,” Laughter said.
With a rapidly changing situation and new state mandates possible, such as Monday’s call by Gov. Cooper to limit gatherings from 100 to 50 people, the county, she said, needs to be able to respond quickly and be able to modify planning.
A “core team” of county officials has been formed to deal with the current situation and includes Laughter, Public Health Director Elaine Russell, Sheriff David Mahoney, Emergency Management Director Kevin Shook, Assistant County Manager David McNeil and Communications Director Cameron Sexton. This team has roughly 200 years of combined experience, Laughter said, which allows for thinking through complex, community issues.
There are many “challenging decisions” coming, she said, and there are no experts in how a country responds to a pandemic, with public health and economic issues factored in every decision.
Laughter went on to highlight some of the recent changes, and those under review, made to services, such as:
•Altered EMS dispatch protocols;
•Restricting access to public safety, library, parks and recreation;
•Encouraging online and call-in services where possible (state is relieving some restrictions);
•Library operating at curbside, DSS popup in Balsam Grove;
•Evaluating positions to keep critical services (mandated) operating under state guidance: DSS, Public Health, Building and Inspections, day cares;
•Authorizing telework only when the work can be done and can be justified for the pay;
•Evaluating staggered work schedules;
•Repurposing staff from non-critical work to meet needs;
•Offering child care for county, city and health care workers to keep county services operational;
•Partnering with WCCA to deliver meals to lunch plus clients;
•Coordinating with nonprofits, faith leaders and community organizations on community response efforts;
•Providing daily updates on social media and website;
•Instigating contingency plans for workers down due to COVID-19;
•Working on personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies;
•Working on logistical support for Transylvania Regional Hospital to understand their patient and bed capacity.
The following other service changes were reported by the county after the meeting:
•The State Department of Insurance has made some change to requirements for building inspections due to COVID-19. Transylvania County Building Inspections is able to do some virtual inspections on some portions, as long as its legible on the live video. They have also started allowing payments to be received by credit card. Call or email the office with needs and the department will be doing as much as they can with these new tools to keep projects moving.
•Transylvania Register of Deeds is encouraging electronic recording of deeds and an appointment will be required for most services. Call 884-3162 or go to http://www.transylvaniacounty.
•The county tax office is still open and is implementing procedures to allow distancing while making payments. The public may also use the drop box next to the door to leave a payment – even during operating hours to limit contact.
County officials are also communicating with state lawmakers and the governor’s office, focusing on funding support, easing some mandates and developing policy.
The state legislature, Laughter said, have also formed working groups on health care, economic support, education and the continuity of state operations. One concern is how sales tax delay payments will impact county revenue that is available to meet state mandates.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” Laughter said. “But, as a community, if we fail to plan well, you will definitely know that. If we do plan well, then we will be able to minimize the public impacts.”
She said the county doesn’t know what the ultimate impacts for the economy will be for the county, so efforts are underway to try and figure what services residents will need once the “fear of community spread has subsided and we move back to normal life.”