Public buildings restrict visitation in response COVID-19 spike

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On Thursday, July 30, the Benton County Courthouse closed at noon upon discovery that a county employee had tested positive for COVID-19. Later that day, Big Sandy Mayor Autumn Ratliff posted that the lobby of Big Sandy City Hall would be closed to the public for two weeks. By Monday, Camden City Hall announced that it also would close to public traffic.

With COVID-19 numbers on the rise in Benton County, up to 108 total cases by Aug. 4, it is no wonder that public buildings have reconsidered being open to any and all foot traffic. Following notice of an infected person at the County Courthouse last Thursday, the courthouse was closed until Monday to allow thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the entire building. 

When it reopened on Monday, County Mayor Brett Lashlee required all offices to implement a rotating schedule and to implement restrictive access to all public for at least two weeks. Employees who could work from home were encouraged to do so. The hope is to return to a normal schedule by Monday, Aug. 17, pending no further positive cases or possible exposure.

 “Any county officials or office staff who learn that they have been directly exposed to a positive case within the past week will have to alert their office manager and the county mayor so that the office can take proper measures to shut down,” Lashlee said. “After learning of exposure to an active case, each member of an office’s staff must complete testing for COVID-19, or self-quarantine for 14 days, before being allowed to return to work.” 

Lashlee related that at this time, all those who work in or enter county buildings and offices are expected to wear a mask. This requirement was put in place to respect the fact that whether a person wishes to wear a mask or not, each citizen’s health and welfare will be considered in places of county business. To exercise caution, county operations will always attempt to promote a safe health environment. Clearly, Big Sandy and Camden are attempting to do the same.

We should be respectful of others’ health concerns when outside the confines of our homes. Please do not ridicule those who wear masks or have a differing viewpoint on the virus. We need to be unified in our attempts to cope this virus,” Lashlee said. “I encourage our citizens simply to take the virus and its impact on the community seriously. Each individual needs to take some measure of responsibility such as self-isolation, social distancing, wearing masks, and frequently washing hands. I encourage you to do what is in the best overall interest of you, your loved ones, and your neighbors’ health.”

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