By Katie Bohannon, Staff Writer
The Etowah County Courthouse amended its operational conditions following Governor Kay Ivey’s proclamation on Friday March 27. Effective March 30, the courthouse is closed to the public until further notice.
The closure results from the recent cases of COVID-19 discovered in Etowah County over the past week. While all courthouse staff will work regular scheduled hours and be available via phone or email, citizens who must conduct routine business are encouraged to visit etowahcounty.org.
Ivey’s proclamation implemented closures of all “non-essential” businesses, venues and activities including entertainment venues such as bowling alleys, theaters, museums and concert arenas along with athletic facilities, gyms and fitness center and close-contact service providers like hair and nail salons. Retail stores also closed along with tourist attractions and beaches.
Earlier in March, the Etowah County Commission met to establish protocol and determine appropriate regulations concerning COVID-19. While the commission strives to keep its community safe, the commissioners understand that some business is essential to the county and must continue.
“Our intention is that the business of the people is going to continue,” said Probate Judge Scott Hassel. “But there’s going to need to be some fundamental changes and things we can do to protect the community and our employees.”
Prior to complete public closure, Hassel implemented a handwashing station and contacted a sanitizing company to clean the courthouse. The courthouse followed precautions recommended by the Center for Disease Control, worked in a staggered environment and allowed employees to utilize their leave times to ensure that not every individual worked at the same time to eliminate access personnel.
“I would like to encourage people to use online services,” said Etowah County Commissioner and District 1 Representative Joey Statum. “Online services are easy to use; it’s a great tool. This is a great time for people to learn.”
Revenue Commissioner Linda Barrett-Vaughan restricted outside access to the revenue department, only allowing one person to conduct business at a time at the counter. Hassel and Barrett-Vaughan collaborated with the Etowah County Commission to develop further guidelines on March 20, modifying the pre-existing safety plan to protect the health and welfare of Etowah County. The Etowah County officials implemented the plan with the hope of maintaining some sense of normalcy in an effort to reassure the public while attempting to slow the spread of the virus through advised practices.
On March 23, daily operations dwindled to shorter business hours, closing in the middle of the day to clean courthouse facilities. Citizens were encouraged to call appropriate departments to schedule appointments for business they were unable to conduct online. The courthouse limited outside entrance and exit to one location, the handicap accessible entrance on the corner of the building nearest 8th Street. With public access restricted to a maximum of 25 persons, only the individual transacting business was allowed inside the building.
Despite the current courthouse operational conditions that closes its doors to the public, the Etowah County staff remains open to ensuring the health, safety and wellness of their community. While the United States battles COVID-19, individuals implementing safety precautions, following established protocols and serving others prove that with togetherness no pandemic is too great to overcome.
“Alabamians – and Americans – have faced many challenges before and the ‘American Spirit’ and the ‘Alabama Resolve’ has helped us get through those times,” said Ivey. “Together, I am confident, we will get through this as well.”
Those with further questions or individuals who need to conduct courthouse business are encouraged to call the Etowah County Courthouse at 256-549-2152. For more information about the animal shelter, call 256-494-5422. For more information about Engineering/Road Department/ Fleet Maintenance, call 256-549-5358. For more information about the Drug Enforcement Unit, call 256-549-5465. For routine business, visit www.etowahcounty.org. For more information on Ivey’s proclamation, visit https://governor.alabama.gov/newsroom/covid-19/.