By Dave Taylor
At Monday’s meeting of the Hancock County Fiscal Court, magistrates debated, from seats spread around the room, whether to shut down parts of Vastwood Park and how to handle county employees who can’t – or won’t – come to work during the pandemic.
Court members found seats in the front and back of the room, all at least six feet apart, the recommended practice of “social distancing” while they discussed what to do about the gathering spots at the park.
“I’ve asked Crystal not to rent the beach house out again until further notice,” county judge-executive Johnny “Chic” Roberts said, referring to Vastwood campground manager Crystal Young. “I don’t know what that means when I say ‘further notice.’”
He acknowledged that the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic is fluid and the state and federal recommendations change sometimes daily.
“Some places have closed their campgrounds. Some places have not. Daviess County has,” said Roberts.
“Close ‘er down,” said District 1 Magistrate Wayne Hodskins.
“I’d close the bathroom down,” said District 3 Magistrate John Mark Gray, “but now if it was just a very few campers out there, just a few and they wasn’t grouping up, I don’t see no problem with that.”
“I do,” said Hodskins.
“That’s exactly what we need to talk about,” said Roberts. “What if Crystal says the campgrounds, they’re full? Do we set a limit? Can we close the bathrooms?”
“I’d close the whole blasted thing or you’re going to have a lot of mad people,” said District 4 Magistrate L.T. Newton.
County Attorney Paul Madden, Jr. pointed out that health officials recommend people still go outdoors to get some sun and exercise, but also that families are already cooped up in the same house together.
“You know, families are stuck together, so if they go to Vastwood and camp out, what difference does that make, as long as they’re not congregating with other families?” he said.
Some magistrates feared that groups would hang out together, potentially spreading the virus if any one of them had it, but Gray said that’s already going on elsewhere.
“They can do that anywhere. You can go to Wal-Mart and see that,” he said.
“Let them do it on their nickel though, not ours,” said Newton.
County workers at the park don’t have the option of being around the visitors or the things they touch, he said, which could expose them to the virus.
People are still visiting the park, said Gray.
“There’s people walking every day out there,” he said. “And people fishing. I seen somebody fishing yesterday.”
“Yeah, but when you’re fishing, I don’t see anybody fishing that’s huddled up in a squad,” said Hodskins.
Roberts said the decision to close the campground didn’t need a vote and could wait till they get feedback from park personnel, but Madden asked a question that turned the conversation toward closing.
“How many people you think camping are local?” he asked.
“There might be three or four out there, I mean might be,” said Gray.
“That’s the reason I bring it up,” Madden said. “I was just sitting here thinking you know, do we want to really keep it open for people from outside? What good does that do us?”
“Are you saying because they’ll bring us the virus?” said court clerk Sage Taylor.
“Well then close it down,” said Gray.
The campground, as well as the beach house, will remain closed to the public until at least April 30.
The court also dealt with what to do with employees who either get sick with the virus or want to stay home to avoid it.
“What if the employee says they don’t want to be here?” Madden said. “How are we dealing with that? They’ve got to use their vacation days first?”
County employees in the Administration Building have continued to come to work, although the building itself is closed to the public.
“All they’re doing right now is answering phones,” he said about the staff in his office. “I think that may be a discussion that comes later, but I understand their worries and if they can do it from home, do people have an objection to that, or what’s the policy here?”
“I think it may come to that where everybody has to work from home at some point, I don’t know. But what would that date be? How long would that be?” said Roberts.
Some might not be able to work from home, but others might just not want to come out of fear of getting sick.
“There’s going to come a point that people are going to say, and they already have, I’m not coming in this week,” Madden said. “So what do we tell them? That they can work from home? Or you’re using your vacation days? What are we doing with them?”
“If they make that decision, I think they’ve got to go vacation or sick days or whatever,” said Newton. “If we make the decision, that’s a different horse.”
“I’m not asking for an answer,” he said. “I’m just telling you that that’s an issue that is here and coming more.”