Local Governments Tighten Public Access to Buildings

Updated 10 a.m., 3/19/2020: state unemployment data
WARREN, Ohio — County officials are operating in the new normal by restricting office hours and governing through virtual or remote means.

During a meeting with 10 people in person Wednesday, Trumbull County Commissioners used bridge conference calling to address 15 others. Commissioners voted to limit and/or restrict public access to the administration building for essential services. Seats at the meeting were spread more than six feet apart for the 10 visitors granted access to the room. All future meetings can be heard via conference call at 877 820 7831, access code 554234.

Commissioners request residents call the office for instructions for conducting necessary business transactions. The front doors of the administration building on Harmon Street will be locked and employees can enter through the side doors on High Street before 8:30 a.m. Sheriff deputies will monitor access to the building. To contact Trumbull officials and departments or learn instructions for conducting business, residents can call 330 675 2451 or Co.Trumbull.oh.us.

County government offices are grappling with how to keep services available to the public while complying with Gov. Mike DeWine’s order Wednesday for businesses to only have essential personnel working at offices and closing more nonessential businesses like barber and tattoo shops and hair salons. He also recommended businesses immediately start taking the temperature of every employee before the work day.

DeWine says temperature checks are not a perfect solution, but are “one way to screen individuals out of the employees who come in” so they don’t infect others if they’re carrying the coronavirus. There have been 88 confirmed cases of the virus in Ohio, encompassing 19 counties, hospitalizing 26 people.

As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, City Hall in Youngstown will only have essential employees there, with all other employees working from home. That day, Erin Bishop, the city’s health commissioner, signed the order to avoid the imminent threat with high probability of widespread exposure to COVID-19.

Employees will be instructed by department heads as to who should be working remotely, Bishop said. All employees are advised to monitor the city’s website, YoungstownOhio.gov. The vital statistic division of the Health Department will remain open from 8 a.m. to noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday by appointment only. The Reproductive Health and Wellness Clinic is open from 8 a.m. to noon Wednesday and Friday by calling for an appointment at 330 742 8221.

In Trumbull County, officials are identifying essential personnel to remain working and spreading out work stations for employees. Staff at Job and Family Services have been working remotely for the past three days with the exception of a work station set up outside of the building to provide service to transient people in need of assistance or people who already enrolled in programs who are homeless.

County offices in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull have drop boxes stationed outside of offices for documents and applications for assistance. Displaced workers or people in need of assistance are encouraged to file online at Unemployment.ohio.gov or call 877 644 6562.

Callers have at least an hour wait time for assistance and officials said it is quicker to file online. Reports put the number of unemployment claims filed this week in Ohio at more than 45,000. As of Thursday, the Associated Press reports unemployment applications in Ohio increased nearly 2,800% since the closure of bars and restaurants.

State Rep. Michael O’Brien, D-64, attended the Trumbull Commissioner’s meeting to monitor actions being taken by county officials and to encourage them to let him know what impact the postponement of Tuesday’s primary election had, as well as any financial impacts of a proposed June 2 election.

He says he plans to introduce legislation when the General Assembly resumes next week asking that county governments be reimbursed for expenses incurred as a result of the virus outbreak.

The Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency is seeking donations of personal protective equipment, or PPE. Anyone with PPE to spare can make a donation by emailing the agency at DonatePPE@mahoningcountyoh.gov or calling 330 599 5351. Dennis O’Hara, director of EMA, says he is working with health care providers and first responder personnel through the EMA’s operations center. Donations should not be dropped off, he said, rather individuals should call or email the agency and the items will be picked up.

Mahoning officials are concerned with the shortage of PPE for first responders, who are coming into contact with the public.

Boardman Fire Chief Mike Pitzler said residents shouldn’t be concerned about 911 operators screening callers about emergency calls as dispatchers are trying to get as much information to prepare first responders as to the type of call and whether they should need to wear PPE.

Pictured: State Rep. Michael O’Brien, far left, talks to Trumbull County Commissioners Dan Polivka, Mauro Cantalamessa, Frank Fuda and assistant clerk Paula Vivoda Klotz in a meeting with limited seating. Chairs were spread throughout the room to abide by social distancing recommendations.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.