Kent County Levy Court outlines opening steps once virus abates

DOVER — The plexiglass sneeze guard, an increasingly common sight at checkout registers with COVID-19, could sit on the counter between Levy Court visitors and staff.

The proposed safety shield was a key part of the brainstorming discussion Tuesday night of how to operate safely when Kent County buildings do reopen.

All county buildings are now closed to the public, though core services are still provided and available.

The launch date for walking through the entrance is as undetermined as the eventual downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases, however.

County leaders said they’re following the lead of national health experts and the State of Delaware’s direction before engaging their own plans which will come in phases.

While Commissioner Glen Howell would like to see a May 1 reopening, he said, “I doubt it will happen. It all depends on the governor. When he gives the green light we go into action.

“When he does let us reopen he may have stipulations (face masks, etc). He should let counties use discretion which we will do.

“Kent County is operational and doing well under the cumbersome circumstances.”

Among options discussed, County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange said, were floor markers to assure social distancing, cordoning off parts of the Administration Building at 555 S. Bay Road, separate exit and entry points and limiting the number of visitors inside at any one time.

“Each department was asked to look at the work they do and what needs to be in place to work safely and effectively in an open environment,” he said.

Any reopening should align with state government, and New Castle and Sussex counties “so we have a unified approach that’s based on sound advice from the medical and science communities,” Commissioner Jeff Hall said.

“We want to provide maximum service and support to our residents while also ensuring that we don’t create a second wave of infections.”

A limited opening with customers scheduled by appointment could benefit social distancing, Commissioner Terry Pepper said, and “We will probably have to look at alternating employee work schedules to limit the amount of employees in our buildings at a given time.

Mr. Pepper offered no prediction for an opening date of any kind.

“I want to proceed with caution and do a slow opening,” he said. “We need to be careful not to unwittingly spread the virus.

“It is important to follow the advise of the medical professionals. This is no time to be reckless.”

Continuing operations

In a follow up to Tuesday’s virtual meeting, Commissioner Jody Sweeney cited operations still ongoing:

Paramedic services, wastewater treatment, permit processing, trash pickup, deed transfers for new home and real estate purchases, access to parks for fresh air and exercise, wills processing, and marriage licensing and more.

According to Mr. Sweeney, “The only services not being met at this time are the foreclosures of homes, which I personally am glad has been suspended, and recreational services at our gym.”

Commissioner Allan Angel pointed to the ability to pay bills through mail, an outside payment box, over the phone and online as at least somewhat mitigating the impact closure.

“It’s certainly not how we’d like to see things work, but we’re not shut down either,” he said. “We’re still processing, we’re still operating, we’re still moving forward the best we can.”

Much of Levy Court’s 292-member workforce is now performing duties remotely, Mr. Petit de Mange said.

Commissioner Eric Buckson said he believes that should continue as long as productivity doesn’t wane. Those who can’t work outside the office should return as soon as conditions are deemed safe, he said.

“We must be laser focused on mitigating concerns and keeping people as safe as possible but understanding that we have to be open,” Mr. Buckson said.

“We have to return to doing the things that make this county, this state, this country great.”

The county has closed access to park playgrounds, bathrooms and pavilions but Mr. Angel said “People still aren’t practicing social distancing throughout the community and that’s a big problem.”

Noticing a group of youths play basketball outside on Thursday, however, Mr. Angel shuddered at their close proximity as they dribbled, rebounded, passed and shot.

Others on the sideline stood shoulder to shoulder as well, he said.

Opined Mr. Sweeney, “It continues to bother me that there are those who would forgo theirs or another’s health for the sake of the economy. The economy will return, a human life will not.”


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

Have a question, tip, or resources about the coronavirus pandemic? Submit it to our newsroom and we’ll do what we can to provide answers.