The Payne County Budget Board met Wednesday to address emergency plans for the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Payne County Emergency Management Director Jeff Kuhn advised the board that he was not called by the Oklahoma Health Department on Wednesday, so as far as he knew, the number of confirmed cases in Payne County remains at one.
If an additional Payne County resident tests positive, Budget Board Chairman Chris Reding and Kuhn will be placed on a conference call with the Oklahoma Department of Health.
“I was expecting a conference call this morning,” Kuhn said, as the number of confirmed cases in Oklahoma rose from 17 to 29.
Payne County remains at Trigger 1 status based on the incident action plan approved by County Commissioners on Monday.
Kuhn said that he was hoping to have the Emergency Operations Center open by Friday. The center is located away from Stillwater and will be not be accessible to the public.
County governmental operations could also be conducted from there in an emergency. Environmental Enforcement employees are helping Deputy Emergency Management Director Troy Choplin complete the work necessary to open the center.
Reding told the Budget Board members that they should be ready to go to Trigger Level 3 if two Payne County residents test positive for the virus.
The emergency Budget Board meeting was scheduled because the board is comprised of elected county officials who make policy decisions for the county, including emergency planning that affects county offices.
“We need to be ready to move and move quickly when a higher trigger level is reached,” Reding said.
He told the Board that Payne County employees are starting to distance themselves from the general public in accordance with health department recommendations. Due to a 14-day incubation period, it is important for all county employees to be careful, Reding said.
He asked each county official to make plans if Trigger Level 3 is reached for how each office would function in accordance with constitutional requirements.
County Clerk Glenna Craig said her office was already taking action in response to the coronavirus. Employees are wearing gloves and changing them after every interaction with the public. Her office has installed an air purifier and no member of the public is allowed past the counter in the lobby of her office. Inter-office purchase orders can be sent by email to the county clerk who is doing everything necessary to limit person-to-person contact.
County Treasurer Carla Manning advised that her office was making options available for people to pay taxes without coming into the office. Taxpayers submitting one-half of their ad valorem taxes have a due date of March 31 for the second half.
County Assessor James Cowan indicated his office was adequately spaced for intra-office social distancing.
Cowan said his office received more than 5,000 business or farm property tax forms last week.
He is attempting to delay responding to the tax filings when he disagrees with a requested exemption. An example would be when oil companies file requests for tax exemptions on oil they are holding in storage at the Cushing tank farms. Cowan warned that protests could be filed with his office and a Board of Equalization hearing would be necessary.
Reding said he is making plans to have runners at the door of the county administration building to bring documents inside the building when people need to transact business with county offices. Deputies in the parking lot could inform people about ways to transact county business electronically or without needing to enter the building.
These actions may become necessary if three or more people in the county test positive for the virus and Trigger 4 is reached, he said.
When Reding suggested that the number of people working in the county administration building should be reduced if the county reaches a Trigger 4 level, Nathan Anderson said the Oklahoma State Extension office staff could work from home if necessary,
At Level 4, the Budget Board will be faced with implementing a plan to further protect county employees and the public.
Elections and events
Payne County Expo Center Director Colin Campbell said the center had not canceled any events, but many people are calling and cancelling events they have scheduled.
Elections Board Secretary Dondee Klein, advised that the State Election had just released an emergency declaration asking governmental bodies having an election scheduled for April 7 to continue the elections to June 30.
Klein advised that Stillwater, Glencoe, Yale, and Drumright all have school board elections scheduled on April 7 that should be postponed if the school boards approve the postponement.
Many of the Payne County Election Board’s precinct workers are over the age of 60 and in the vulnerable population identified by state health officials, Klein said.
Kuhn said that people who test positive for the coronavirus will be quarantined, currently at home, unless medical conditions require hospitalization. If multiple household members are present, the person should remain in their room.
If conditions deteriorate, Kuhn said a mandatory quarantine in a special location might be required. He urged county officials to consider what buildings might be used if a mandatory quarantine/hospitalization facility is needed.
He also asked county officers to consider what they could do remotely if a county officer tested positive for coronavirus and had to be quarantined.