During a 20-minute emergency session March 23, the Van Zandt County Commissioners Court voted 3-0 to limit public access immediately to the courthouse and all other VZC buildings through at least Wednesday, April 15, due to coronavirus concerns.
Van Zandt County Judge Don Kirkpatrick shared the following press release during the emergency session.
“VZC is closely monitoring information from Texas Governor Greg Abbott, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Texas Department of Health Services (Texas DSHS), and our local Emergency Management Coordinator (Vicki McAlister) to ensure the health and safety of our employees, our VZC residents, and the general public as a whole. VZC officials are working diligently to stay informed of the newest information as it becomes available and make appropriate decisions to safeguard the public and employees. As of this date (March 23), one confirmed case of the coronavirus has been reported in VZC. We encourage everyone to not panic, take precautionary measures to ensure their health and the health of others.
“Effective at 12:00 p.m. Monday, March 23, 2020, all VZC offices will be closed to the public,” continued Kirkpatrick. “They will remain closed to the public until further notice. Employees will remain working and we encourage members of the public to please contact the office they need by e-mail or phone. For a list of offices and their respective phone numbers, please visit our website (vanzandtcounty.org).”
In his press release, Kirkpatrick addressed courthouse offices as well as other VZC offices.
Courthouse offices: “For your convenience, the courthouse will have ONE entrance open on Dallas Street, north side of the courthouse (State Highway 64) that will allow people to drop off information to respective offices in labeled boxes directly inside the door,” pointed out Kirkpatrick. “Courthouse security will be at that entrance to give instructions, if needed.”
Other VZC offices: “Access by phone, e-mail or appointment only, the offices of the justice of the peace, the Department of Public Safety (DPS), road and bridge departments, the VZC Sheriff’s office, the tax office, district attorney and TxAgrilife,” emphasized Kirkpatrick.
“In addition, local restaurants and bars are asked to close their dining/gathering areas,” concluded Kirkpatrick. “We are asking our residents to adhere to the maximum 10-person gathering size. Local churches are asked to adhere to the maximum 10-person gathering size.”
As part of the limited public access to the courthouse, Kirkpatrick said that the next regular commissioners’ court meeting scheduled for Wednesday, April 1, will be closed to the public.
There will be an announcement on the VZC Courthouse website under the public notices information regarding how people can view the meeting online.
“We want to be open and transparent while also protecting our employees and our citizens and their families,” pointed out Kirkpatrick.
In other business, the commissioners’ court approved a resolution to protect citizens, employees and their families during the coronavirus outbreak.
“This resolution covers basics like employee personal travel to areas with confirmed COVID-19 cases, tips to minimize business disruptions, information on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and paid leave of absence as well as testing people for COVID-19 so that the doctors help diagnose,” pointed out VZC Human Resource Director Dan Maucieri. “The Texas Association of Counties (TAC) Health and Benefits Plan, in association with Blue Cross/ Blue Shield, has waived the copay that you would normally pay for an office visit and they have also waived the cost of lab testing for COVID-19. If one of our employees or one of their family members that is under this pool goes to the doctor for any of that, there will be no cost to the employee for that family member if they are covered.”
There was more discussion regarding the VZC Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) that was first brought up during a called meeting of the VZC Commissioners’ Court held March 19 in the VZC District Courtroom.
During the March 19 meeting, Maucieri and the commissioners’ court requested that all elected officials and department heads have a COOP ready to turn in to the court by 8:30 a.m. Monday, March 23, 90 minutes prior to the court’s emergency session.
“I have spoken with Dan (Maucieri) as well as our VZC Emergency Service Coordinator Vicki McAlister,” said Kirkpatrick during the March 23 meeting. “We are still waiting on some plans.”
Maucieri responded, “We have two-thirds of the plans turned in which is fantastic progress. Due to some technical difficulties, at least one other office has concluded their plan but was unable to get it to me prior to this meeting. The key thing with these COOP’s is that they will tell us how each office will function over the next couple of weeks, but we still have a lot of work to do. We are well on our way.”
Kirkpatrick said, “According to our emergency management coordinator, we are not ready to approve our overall COOP plan today (March 23). It is a work in progress.”
VZC Pct. 2 Commissioner Virgil Melton Jr. added, “I would like to encourage all of our elected officials and department heads to copy Dan and Vicki on their COOP plans so they can have a record of what is going on.”
The VZC judge responded, “Our emergency management coordinator and our human re source director will be working together to continue to develop this plan for VZC.”
“This plan will show how each office will operate their office over the next couple of weeks,” stressed Maucieri.
VZC Pct. 3 Commissioner Keith Pearson asked Maucieri if a COOP plan had been received from every office in the courthouse. Maucieri responded, “No, sir. Not yet, but we are close.”
“I don’t see how we can proceed with shutting down the courthouse if we don’t have a COOP plan for the courthouse in place,” said Pearson. “This is what we met about March 19. We were supposed to have a COOP plan from every office in the courthouse by 8:30 this morning (March 23).”
Melton responded, “The COOP plan is not complete yet and it may not be complete for a while but that is separate from the discussion on limiting public access to the courthouse.”
Kirkpatrick added, “If you are a department head or an elected official, we need that COOP plan back to Dan and Vicki. This plan is not just for COVID-19. We are talking about the future regarding any disasters or situations that could arise. The deadline to get your COOP plan in was at 8:30 this morning (March 23).”
The commissioners’ court agreed by a 3-0 vote to table any action regarding VZC’s overall COOP plan. VZC Pct. 4 Commissioner Tim West was not in attendance at the March 23 emergency session.
A request to extend the current proclamation declaring a local state of disaster through Wednesday, April 15, was approved by the commissioners’ court.
The original proclamation was signed by Kirkpatrick on March 20 for a seven-day period prior to the latest action taken by the commissioners’ court during the March 23 emergency session.