In a nearly two-hour meeting, the Board of County Commissioners were joined by the other County elected officials and department heads for a series of discussions and presentations on preparations and responses to the growing COVID-19 crisis. Ultimately, the Board declared a state of emergency.
Over the weekend the City of Oklahoma City and then the State of Oklahoma also declared states of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Director of Emergency Management, David Barnes, addressed the board with updated procedures and statistics from the CDC and the Oklahoma City-County Department of Health, and provided up-to-date assessment of emergency readiness of various county operations.
Barnes stated that the City-County Health Department is the lead agency responding to the crisis in the county. Plans are underway to build three drive-up testing sites in the county. While Barnes could not give a concrete timeline for those sites to be ready, he suggested that it will be soon.
Barnes recommended that the board declare a state of emergency in the county and provided them with a draft resolution doing so. The Board summarily voted to make that declaration, following the lead of the state of Oklahoma and the City of Oklahoma City. By statute, the declaration will have to be renewed in seven-day intervals.
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Representatives of the Sheriff’s Department reported to the Board on preparations and processes in place at the Oklahoma County Detention Center. Captains Bradley and Sedbrook, the Jail Administrators, said that they’ve been working on this issue for a couple of weeks.
Currently, staff do a pre-screening at intake to the jail. If a person being booked was to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 or had been exposed to people with the potential to spread the virus, a medical provider on call would determine if the person needed to be transported to hospital care or isolated in the jail.
Currently, there are seven cells available designed for medical isolation, as well as two unoccupied pods of cells that could be used for quarantine if needed. Each pod contains 50 cells.
District 3 Commissioner Kevin Calvey asked if certain warrants were being prioritized by the Warrant Squad. It was explained that the Warrant Squad does not go out looking for people with minor or nonviolent charges, nor for people with Failure to Appear warrants. People with those warrants are only arrested during incidental contact, such as a traffic stop. Furthermore, the Sheriff is suspending Sheriff’s foreclosures for the time being while dealing with this crisis.
The Sheriff also reported that the Presiding Judge of the District Court was postponing the next two jury terms, so that no jury trials will happen in the next two weeks.
Much of the information presented today included updates about the ability of various department employees to work from home. According to the IT department, any employees whose work could be done remotely should be adequately supported by the technology available through the County. District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan posed the question that if an employee used their personal device to do county business would that make their device subject to the Open Records Act. The District Attorney’s office answered that it would.
Most of the departments reported that approximately 75% of their staff had work that would not require them to be in the physical office to complete. That makes one wonder why they’ve had to come into the office to work the whole time before the crisis.
One department’s employees who mostly can not do their work remotely is the Social Services Department.
Christy Marshall, Social Services Director, said that the staff who were vulnerable members of our county community believe that it is even more important to continue those services during a crisis.
She used the pharmacy program as an example, saying that the need for medicine doesn’t diminish during a public health crisis. She said that at the pharmacy counter located at the Westtown Resource Center of the Homeless Alliance, the county had tried to order sufficient masks to give masks to symptomatic clients. There were very few masks available, so instead the staff are wearing masks while serving their clients.
Marshall said that they wished to enclose the pharmacy area in plexiglass with a pass-through for medicine. As the Board could not vote on that item since it wasn’t on the agenda, County Treasurer Butch Freeman suggested to Marshall that she go ahead and fund the project from her budget then ask the budget board for reimbursement of that money into the Social Services budget.
The Board recessed the special meeting until after the Budget Board meeting scheduled for Thursday at 10:00 a.m.
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