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Upshur Co. limits access to courthouse

Commission hosts emergency meeting; four employees test positive

BUCKHANNON — Four active cases among Upshur County Courthouse employees led the Upshur County Commission to vote to limit public access to county offices and have employees work remotely when possible.

The decision came during an emergency teleconference meeting the commission called Monday. The courthouse was already closed Monday in observance of Labor Day.

The Upshur County Courthouse remains open for normal business hours Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for essential business but the commission is encouraging telephone and online business as most offices will be working with reduced staff. Courthouse security officers will encourage the public to conduct business online at www.upshurcounty.org or via telephone and will decline access to the facility if a visitor is showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19. These were the same measures implemented in March as a precaution and lifted after several weeks.

During the emergency meeting, commission president Terry Cutright said, “We’ve had an outbreak of the COVID-19 virus at the courthouse. The commissioners are talking about going back to the operating system that we used before with skeleton crews and security at the doors.”

The outbreak appears to have affected the Upshur County Sheriff’s Department and Upshur County Magistrate Court’s offices as referenced during the meeting.

Sheriff David Coffman said, “I have no choice, but to go to a skeleton crew. I don’t know how many people I am going to have. They keep dropping. I don’t know what the numbers are going to be in the next day or two.”

The Centers for Disease Control defines an outbreak as two or more patients being linked with COVID-19.

Just how long the new restrictions would be kept in place is unknown at this time.

The press release sent after the meeting said, “First and foremost, please rest assured that the commission is being pro-active and taking all necessary precautionary measures to keep county employees’ and residents’ exposure at a minimum.”

Commissioner Sam Nolte said in the meeting, “I think by limiting access to the courthouse and going back to remote work, by taking these measures, it will hopefully keep things from spreading.”

Some employees were being tested over the weekend and it was discussed that employees who were not showing symptoms may wait to get tested.

Cutright said, “Once we get the test results back, we will see how bad things are and make some decisions.”

Twenty-sixth Judicial Circuit Judge Kurt Hall, who joined in the conference call along with many Upshur County elected officials, said that he had just signed a memo to have the magistrates return to their full schedule effective Tuesday, Sept. 8.

“I told them to forget that,” Hall said. “Now, we are back, in Upshur County at least, to rotating a week on and a week off.”

Hall also said an administrative order will be signed and, “All hearings, other than emergency hearings, are canceled until further notice.”

Hall also said there may need to be an alternative plan for the grand jury which was already approved to meet at the Event Center at Brushy Fork where social distancing could be in place on Monday, Sept. 14.

“We have a week to make an alternative plan,” he said.

Commissioner Kristie Tenney moved to restrict public access to the county offices which was seconded by Nolte and passed unanimously.

Magistrate Mike Coffman said, “I think it’s very wise what we are doing. I don’t think it’s an overkill.”

He questioned when the county would be able to decide to reopen the courthouse normally due to symptoms of COVID-19 appearing two to 14 days after exposure.

Nolte said the commission would gather more information this week to decide on the future plans.

Cutright asked elected officials and supervisors to discuss testing, symptom monitoring and quarantining with their employees.

Sue McKisic, nurse director at the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department, said, “We need you guys to really stress to all your employees and staff, do not come in and work symptomatic. One person worked all last week with symptoms and knew he had symptoms, but didn’t get tested to later in the week.”

McKisic also said that all employees need to wear their masks at all times.

“This will help keep this down for sure,” she said. “There is a 14-day incubation period. We have had some people who have tested positive who have had no signs or symptoms whatsoever. There have been people asymptomatic, but they have tested positive. We are recommending that a lot of these people don’t get tested immediately, they give it a few more days, but they are still under quarantine.”

McKisic said anyone who had been around those employees who tested positive should be tested.

McKisic also noted there were eight total active cases in the county Monday.

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