County OKs disaster declaration over virus

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Posted: Friday, March 20, 2020 6:00 am

The Traill County Board of Commission on Tuesday approved an emergency disaster declaration and separate pandemic illness and quarantine plans in response to the new coronavirus.

Sheriff Steve Hunt told county officials that the county’s existing emergency operations plan didn’t address pandemic illnesses and requested the declaration in the wake of similar moves by President Trump and Gov. Doug Burgum.

Traill County State’s Attorney Charlie Stock said the isolation and quarantine plan outlines how local officials will deal with voluntary home confinement of those infected with communicable diseases.

In addition, the plan spells out how quarantine orders will be handled for individuals who refuse to comply with isolation or quarantine orders.

In those cases, assistance from law enforcement may be requested to enforce the order, which stipulates that people who no longer constitute a substantial risk to the public be released.

Ben Gates, assistant emergency manager for Traill County, said the disaster declaration establishes a multi-agency coordination group between Traill and Steele counties to respond to a COVID-19 outbreak locally.

Hunt said he’s been attempting to shift prisoners in the Traill County Jail to facilities in Grand Forks and Fargo due to the configuration of the jail.

“We have one cell right now that we can isolate a person into,” Hunt said. “Otherwise we have a bunkroom-type situation with bunk beds where even a good bout of the flu down there could be disastrous.”

Hunt said deputies and dispatchers in his office are attempting to follow recently issued health guidelines recommending staff members stay at least 6 feet apart from one another and the public at all times.

“That’s not always an option for us,” he said. “But we’re doing as best at keeping our distance but still doing our job.”

Dispatchers who receive 911 calls have been asked to screen callers to determine where they have symptoms such as a cough and high fever associated with COVID-19, Hunt said.

In addition to stocking the sheriff’s office with hand sanitizer as a way to minimize the spread of germs, deputies have been asked to limit travel outside the county in the weeks ahead, Hunt said.

Gates added that commissioners in Steele County had placed restrictions on all nonessential employee travel recently.

Stock said he agreed with the move. He said while the county can’t force employees to stay at home in their off hours, officials can offer “serious recommendations when they’re on our dime.”

“It’s imperative that we take action relative to work-time travel and also send a strong message about (limiting) nonwork-time travel,” Stock said.

“Don’t travel if you don’t need to, including to Fargo or Grand Forks,” he said. “One encounter is all it would take and then we would be in trouble.”

Stock said he believes it’s up to the state to play a role in limiting the hours of bars and restaurants. However, city governments that issue liquor licenses also could play a role in curbing the hours where drinks are served, he said.

Stock said the plans approved Tuesday will help the county be proactive in curbing the spread of COVID-19 locally.

In other business Tuesday, county commissioners:

nReceived an update from Hunt and Gates on the new Statewide Interoperable Radio Network (SIRN), designed to improve radio communications for first responders in the state.

Partnering with Motorola, SIRN will create a virtual dispatch center that relies on an 800-megahertz system that replaces the existing VHF system over the next five years.

Gates told officials that the system could cost the county’s law enforcement $190,000 to implement.

Haugen said commissioners set aside $55,000 during this year’s budget planning to start paying for the new system.

nDiscussed upgrades to the county’s 911 system.

Gates said the county’s current 911 technology will need to be replaced in the near future.

Rather than relying on a telephone line that comes into the county’s dispatch center, an enhanced 911 network would be placed on a specific, private network, Gates said.

“That way, if a flood takes out Hillsboro, with the click of a button we could switch over (dispatch duties) to Grand Forks or state radio in Bismarck or Dickinson,” he said.

nLearned from County Auditor Glenda Haugen that Khloe Brandon, a fourth-grader from Hatton, won honors in the “I Voted” sticker contest sponsored by the North Dakota County Auditors Association. 

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