Monroe County declares emergency because of COVID-19, only essential employees on duty

In a press release issued Tuesday morning, Monroe County announced that president of the board of commissioners, Julie Thomas, has invoked her emergency powers under state statute and local code due to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic virus.

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File photo of Monroe County’s board of commissioners president, Julie Thomas.

The initial declaration of emergency is for seven days, but could be extended.

Also Tuesday morning, Indiana’s department of health announced a second death due to the COVID-19 pandemic virus and six additional confirmed cases in the state of Indiana. That brings the total confirmed cases in the state to 30, double the number three days ago, with just 159 people tested.

For the public in Monroe County, the emergency declaration means they’ll find the county’s physical facilities closed. Anyone who needs to do business with a county department located in the North Showers building, the health building, or in the county courthouse, should call or email the department for further information, according to the press release. Email addresses and phone numbers of county departments are available on the county’s website.

The board of commissioners will hold its regular weekly meeting on Wednesday morning. It’s possible they’ll take action on social services relief funding.

According to Tuesday’s press release, the courthouse will be open Wednesday only
for those who are there to attend the board’s meeting. Commissioners are encouraging citizens to watch the meeting on Community Access Television Services (CATS) instead of attending in person.

Under Indiana’s Open Door Law (ODL), the public has right to attend public meetings. On Monday, state’s public access counselor (PAC), which gives advice on open meetings and open records laws, told The Square Beacon there could be additional guidance issued in the next day or so. Right now, according to PAC, “Nothing about the ODL statute has changed.”

Monroe County’s advice to the public to watch the board of commissioners meeting on a video feed is consistent with what the PAC office told The Square Beacon: “We are telling municipal governments that they can encourage the public to watch meetings online, rather than attending in person.” What local governments can’t do, according to the PAC office, is to ban the public from attending.

However, according to the PAC office, local governments can limit the number of people in a meeting room in order to conform with the Center for Disease Control’s guidance on social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC’s guidance is to limit gatherings to no more than 50 people, with a distance of six feet apart.

For county workers, the emergency declaration means that they are not supposed to report for work unless they are essential employees. According to the press release, all Monroe County employees—full time and part time—will be paid during the period of the emergency.

Under the state statute, continuation of the emergency beyond the initial seven days requires “consent of the governing board of the political subdivision.”

According to a statement issued by the city of Bloomington on Monday, the Monroe County county government is part of a “governmental/institutional task force” that is leading the local emergency response to COVID-19. The task force includes city and county governments, Indiana University, IU Health, and Monroe County Community School Corporation, according to the statement.

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