County courthouses interact with the public on a daily basis, and many of those in the region are taking additional steps to make sure their employees and patrons remain safe during the COVID-19 outbreak that is disrupting life and business around the world.
Many courthouses remain open to the public, but are encouraging residents to not come to the courthouse in person to conduct business by phone or email if they are not feeling well. Others have closed their doors almost completely. A few are operating as usual as they monitor the virus for which 14 people in South Dakota had tested positive as of Friday.
Diane Murtha, auditor for Hutchinson County, said the courthouse in Olivet has been closed to public foot traffic and employees are doing business by phone, email or traditional mail.
“We’re closed to the public, but we’re fully staffed,” Murtha told The Daily Republic.
Murtha said the courthouse, which closed to the public March 18, has set up a drop box by the north entrance of the building that residents can drop off necessary documentation, such as equalization meeting notices from area townships.
“It seems to be working,” Murtha said. “Right now if you have any questions, just call us. Our commissioners on April 7 are going to look at the situation again, and from there we’ll move forward.”
The Miner County Courthouse in Howard is also closed to the public following a meeting of the county commission March 17.
Becky Mommaerts, deputy auditor for Miner County, said staff at the courthouse is still operating to provide county services, even with non-essential staff in the building.
“(Customers) have to wait outside the door and we do business with them outside,” Mommaerts said. “They have to buzz to get in just like the employees do.”
The courthouse is otherwise running as it should be, as Mommaerts said county departments have one person staffing each office. There are no court proceedings scheduled in the immediate future at the courthouse, but Mommaerts said extra measures would be taken should court need to be held.
Visitors are now having their temperatures taken and being asked questions about their health and travel history at the doors of both the Charles Mix and Gregory county courthouses. The counties implemented those policies on Thursday and Tuesday, respectively, at county commission meetings.
“We’re just playing it by ear, day by day, kind of seeing what’s happening around the state. And if we do have a positive case in our county, then certainly our plans will change drastically,” Gregory County Auditor Julie Bartling said. “So we’re just kind of staying alert; staying vigilant. We hope that it doesn’t happen but want to be prepared if it does.”
County employees in Tripp, Brule and Buffalo counties all said their courthouses remain open for business as usual. Tripp County Deputy Auditor Terri Fisher said she expects the county’s offices will remain open barring a mandated closure at the state or federal level, but Buffalo County Director of Equalization Evelyn Wulff said Thursday she’s hoping an emergency county commission meeting will be held soon to make a change.
“We’re sparsely populated, so I think (county commissioners) are kind of taking that into consideration,” Wulff said. “We don’t have very much traffic as it is, but I reiterate to them day by day that we need to get the emergency commissioner meeting together so that we can declare by motion that the courthouse is closed to the public.”
Many other courthouses remain open, but with some changes in procedure to help protect the public.
Deputy Rich Sutera said each office in the Bon Homme County Courthouse is occupied but keeping its doors closed, and a policy of only having one member of the public in an office at a time and cleaning after they leave has been implemented.
“We have signs up telling people things you can do by phone and things like that. Other than that, business as usual,” Sutera said.
Shannon Fagerhaug, deputy auditor for Jerauld County, said sanitizing and protective products will be available to the public entering the courthouse.
Fagerhaug said there are stations set up in the courthouse, located in Wessington Springs, where the public can pick up and use products like hand sanitizer and masks if they want to put them on. And like every courthouse in the region, she urged people to call ahead before coming in to make sure they actually need to be present to conduct their business.
Fagerhaug said the county courthouse receives relatively little foot traffic in general, which has made the transition to their current set of procedures easier for the staff and the public.
To minimize additional foot traffic in the southeast corner of the state’s county buildings, the Unified Judicial System’s First Circuit has granted a two-week furlough on 24/7 testing, with the random alcohol testing program for those on probation or bond suspended until March 31. Davison County is still conducting urinalysis testing and monitoring those with SCRAM alcohol monitoring bracelets. Davison County Jail administrator Don Radel said suspending 24/7 has cut the number of people who stop by the sheriff’s office regularly to be monitored for alcohol use to 16, down from about 80.
In Hanson County, where county offices are also asking people to call ahead before coming to the courthouse, 24/7 testing has also been suspended, but those who were on that program have been switched to SCRAM in light of COVID-19. Hanson and Davison counties have both also suspended fingerprinting and issuing pistol permits.
Throughout the past week and a half, public visitation has been suspended indefinitely at the Davison County, Brule County, Charles Mix County and Winner City jails. Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield and all other Department of Corrections facilities also halted public visitation on March 12.
The number of people in the Davison County Jail has been low enough throughout the past month that jail staff have been able to keep newly-booked people separate from the rest of the jail population until they’re confirmed to be healthy. The jail is also now being cleaned more frequently, Radel said.
“The grand majority of our people were already in jail before this thing started, so we’ve been able to move our inmates around,” Radel told The Daily Republic on Friday. “We have one pod that we leave open for an assessment pod, so all new bookings come in and go to that pod, and then they’re assessed before they get transferred on.”
Radel said video visitation, phone calls and texting are all still permitted, and the jail is also continuing to offer virtual mental health services.
As of this Friday, courthouses in area counties are accessible to the public at the following levels. Courthouse employees encourage patrons to call ahead prior to arriving in order to see if their business can be done without being there in person.
Open as usual:
Open as usual with limited staff:
Open with public restrictions or screening:
Bon Homme County
Charles Mix County
Open for business, but closed to the public:
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