Clay County Courthouse

Employees at the Clay County Courthouse in Vermillion are sanitizing their hands on the way in and on the way out, washing surfaces with a Clorox solution (as is the janitor continuously) throughout the day, and have posted signs on the doors discouraging the public from entering if they are sick in an effort to keep COVID-19 at bay.

Like other counties across the nation, Clay County is attempting to stop the spread of COVID-19 with heightened sanitation practices and by limiting interaction with the public. Essential county services are still being offered, although the public is asked to hold off on non-essential business at this time or to use phone and internet resources if they can instead of in-person visits.

“Things have definitely changed around the courthouse. Employees are sanitizing their hands on the way in and on the way out, washing surfaces with a Clorox solution (as is the janitor continuously) throughout the day, and we have posted signs on the doors discouraging the public from entering if they are sick, said Clay County Auditor Carri Crum. “Thanks to modern technology, we can do a large portion of courthouse business online or over the phone. Contact phone numbers and e-mails are on our website: www.claycountysd.org. We are just doing our best to limit contact and practice social distancing with hopes of flattening that curve!”

If you are coming to the courthouse, Emergency Manager for Clay County Layne Stewart offers these guidelines: “On a county business level, please call the office in the courthouse you wish to receive services. The thing you need to do might be handled over the phone or online. If you must come in person, the door on the east is the only one open at this time and we ask you to use the hand sanitizer station inside the door before going to the office you need to visit. Do as much as you can with the municipalities and other agencies the same way, call ahead, make appointments or utilize their online services.”

Stewart said his department has been working on responding to the COVID-19 crisis for a while, but this is a situation, in some ways, unlike any they’ve trained for previously.

“The situation in different than other medical events,” said Stewart. “We have trained for wide spread events but there has always been a vaccine to distribute, such as H1N1 several years ago. There is a group of people prepared to dispense medications, but this time, there is not anything we can do to help the individuals. Those who are sick should call their doctor for any treatment options.”

Currently, Clay County Emergency Management is focused on information gathering and distribution.

“We had a group of leaders and officials meet last week to open the lines of communications between entities such as the county, City of Vermillion, USD, Vermillion Schools and Sanford,” said Stewart. “Keeping everyone informed of the ever changing events is proving to be a large task but in the long term, we all need to work together in order to make the best situation we can for the general public.”

Stewart urges everyone to stay up to date with and follow current CDC guidelines for fighting COVID-19.

“Follow the CDC guidelines about handwashing and techniques to not spread the virus. Stay at home as much as possible,” Stewart said. “Don’t gather in large groups and be patient. More information is coming out all the time, it can be overwhelming but don’t panic.”

How long this current situation will last is unknown, said Stewart.

“There is not a timeline for the event, it is going to take time to work through this,” said Stewart. “USD and the public schools have extended their closures. Unknown what will come next, other states have closed bars and restaurants, closed schools for the remainder of the school year and other measures to ensure people are keeping away from large groups.”

Precautions to fight COVID-19 in South Dakota have also affected the judicial system and the jail. On Friday, March 13, the South Dakota Supreme Court issued an order declaring a judicial emergency in South Dakota related to COVID-19. The order allows the presiding judges of South Dakota’s seven judicial circuits to adopt, modify, and suspend court rules and orders, and to take further actions concerning court operations, as needed and until further notice in the wake of this public health emergency.

Greg Sattizahn, a spokesperson for the State of South Dakota, explained: “The order is intended as a proactive measure to enable the court system to respond swiftly to any emerging public health crisis in the courts of the state and to ensure the safety of court personnel, litigants and the public that interact with the court system.”

Sheriff Andy Howe says current health concerns are causing challenges at the jail.

“Some of the major issues are in the jail where many people are in a confined space,” he said. “It doesn’t quite have the beneficial effect of a quarantine because new people come in, some bond out, and staff comes and goes. We are monitoring health statuses closely and screening for symptoms.

“We are advising people not to come for visitation since they must share a small, common space with other visitors and this also puts the inmates into proximity with other inmates who had recently used that space. We have not ceased visitation at this time like other counties have but that may happen at some point,” Howe said. “We have increased sanitizing of those surfaces between visits as well as frequent sanitizing of all common or shared spaces such as desks and the booking area.”

For the time being, the sheriff’s department is continuing to offer services like pistol permit applications and applicant fingerprinting, but those coming into the jail who are not under arrest must wear a mask.

The current crisis has also changed how the department is responding to some calls.

“We are responding as necessary but are limiting our response in some cases where we might have responded previously,” said Howe. “For example, on medical calls, a deputy typically would respond to assist EMS but in cases where life support is not needed and the deputy otherwise would not provide care in that way, we are advising them not to respond or to remain outside until needed.

“The intent is to not introduce contaminants into that residence or take any out if it can be avoided. Of course, if a citizen or EMS needs our help, we will respond,” he said. “We are limiting the number of responders in other cases as well to make sure that unnecessary exposure is diminished.”

For the time being, the twice daily breath testing as part of the 24/7 sobriety program has been discontinued. All participants have been transitioned to other forms of monitoring, said Howe, such as the Continuous Alcohol Monitoring (CAM) bracelets which limits exposure to a much smaller degree and eliminates the forceful exhalation that the breath testing requires.

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