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Cleburne County manages resources during coronavirus outbreak

Cleburne County Courthouse sign

This sign greeted visitors to the Cleburne County Courthouse on Monday. 

HEFLIN — Cleanliness and caution are the order of the day in Cleburne County, while the most essential services are still maintained as the coronavirus takes a bite out of residents’ normal routine.

City of Heflin

Heflin Mayor Rudy Rooks wants the public to know that Heflin City Hall will stay open during the coming weeks as uncertainty grips the small town of roughly 3,500 residents.

“We’re going to maintain our city services as usual,” Rooks said on Monday afternoon. 

Rooks said that he met with all city department heads Monday morning to brief them on the situation and safety measures for all city employees.

“First and foremost we want our employees to be safe, we want to take care of them,” said Rooks.

Rooks stressed how important it is for employees to follow infectious disease precautions such as washing hands, wiping down areas that get touched and social distancing.

The senior center will still be opened for meals; however, Rooks said that the city will abide by any new guidelines from the East Alabama Planning and Development. Rooks said that some seniors have home delivery of meals already but if any senior does not feel comfortable in visiting the senior center they can have their meal delivered. 

Rooks said that the Irish-themed St. Paddy’s On Main and the Strides of March 5K celebration that was to be held Saturday has been postponed until further notice.

Rooks said there are restrictions at the Parks and Recreation Department as the gym is now closed and all city-run baseball games have been canceled. 

Tammy Perry, Heflin PARD director, said that all classes at the rec center have been canceled until April 4, at which time things will be reevaluated. The classes included ballet, exercise and gymnastics.

“Our approach will be fluid. We know it’s changing daily so we’ll stay on top of it and reevaluate in a couple of weeks,” said Rooks.

Tanya Maloney, Heflin’s economic developer, said the Small Business Administration will provide disaster assistance loans for businesses impacted by Coronavirus. (More info here.)

Cleburne County Nursing Home

Tony Culberson, Cleburne County Nursing Home administrator, said Monday that the facility is following updated visitation guidelines announced by the Alabama Nursing Home Association last Saturday.  

The nursing home previously had a visitation procedure in place that allowed family and residents’ sponsors to visit during restricted hours and circumstances.

“Now it’s 100 percent restricted except for end of life,” Culberson said. Culberson said the new restricted visitation guidelines have been in effect since last Friday.

Culberson said the nursing home residents are coping with the tighter visitation regulations. 

“They are OK because we have been preparing them all along. We’ve set up Skype in our social service offices for those families that have it and we’re doing face to face calls, we’re actually visiting the residents themselves from staff to make sure that they are OK,” said Culberson.

Culberson said that other guidelines have been issued by the Center for Medicaid and Medicare services including:

— Cancel communal dining and all group activities, such as internal and external group activities.

— Remind residents to practice social distancing and perform frequent hand hygiene.

— Facilities should identify staff who work at multiple facilities (e.g., agency staff, regional or corporate staff, etc.) and actively screen and restrict them appropriately to ensure they do not place individuals in the facility at risk for COVID-19.

Culberson said that no employees have been sent home due to any illnesses.

“We have inserviced our staff and they have to not just be screened but have nurses check their temperature immediately upon entering the building and if they’ve got a temperature of more than 99.6 then they’re turned around, but we have not had to turn around anyone yet,” said Culberson.

Cleburne County Courthouse

A sign has been taped to all doors at the Cleburne County Courthouse asking potential visitors if they have flu-like symptoms. If “yes” the sign advises the person to turn around and instructs the visitor, “Do not enter the building. Do not even touch the door.” A list of phone numbers is listed to most county offices located inside.  

Ryan Robertson, Cleburne County Probate Judge, said the probate office will be open and there will be a grace period for residents to pay their tags with no penalty because of the emergency declaration.

“It is open and we plan on staying open as long as we possibly can, and we’re just asking folks if you are sick please come back at a later time,” Robertson said.

Robertson said that two letters have been received from the governor’s office.

“One is the emergency declaration and the other is recommending that if you have anyone in your staff that is sick or because of their age that they might be more susceptible to catching this, that we allow them to be off and work around everybody's schedule and as much as possible allow people to work at home,” said Robertson.

 Robertson said that some of the offices that are not that busy may be closed to the public while personnel work behind closed doors.

“We also got a letter from the State Supreme Court that all courts can be put off unless it’s an emergency court, jury duty has been canceled,” said Robertson. 

Warren Sarrell, Cleburne County Circuit Clerk, said his office has been asked by the Secretary of State’s office to hold off on passing out absentee ballots for the upcoming runoff election scheduled for March 31. 

Sarrell said that it is “pushing the envelope” to get the absentee ballots processed by the runoff election because his office has not even received them yet. 

Sarrell said the Secretary of State has requested an emergency opinion from the Alabama Attorney General’s office to postpone the runoff election due to COVID-19.

In a press release by the Secretary of State office on Sunday it states that neither the Code of Alabama nor the Constitution of the State of Alabama allow for the suspension, delay, or postponement of an election once the date has been set. 

“In postponing the election until the threat of Coronavirus is eliminated, Alabamians will be able to participate in the electoral process in a safe and healthy environment,” according to the release.

Kim Brown, Cleburne County’s chief financial officer, said on Monday that all county offices will remain open. 

Brown said that a special called meeting was set for 10 a.m. March 18, at the Mountain Center has been canceled. The meeting was to discuss the logging industry’s impact on county roads during the recent rains. 

​Staff writer Bill Wilson: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @bwilson_star.