Citrus County commissioners meet Thursday for the first time in regular session since declaring a state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic.
And their message to the public: Don’t come.
The board meets at 1 p.m. in the courthouse, 110 N. Apopka Ave., Inverness. Rather than attending, the county is asking the interested public to watch the meeting either online or TV, and then call a phone number (352-341-8795) to participate during public comment.
Those who do attend, or anyone else entering the courthouse, will undergo temperature screenings, as ordered Wednesday by Circuit Court Judge Richard “Ric” Howard. Anyone with a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher will be denied access, the order states.
Board Chairman Brian Coleman said the county attorney is looking into ways the board could hold future public meetings by telephone to protect the public, staff and commissioners from a potential exposure.
“If we go to teleconference for our next meeting, we’ll have to set up a process for doing that,” Coleman said.
Other than County Administrator Randy Oliver and County Attorney Denise Dymond Lyn, the staff is being told to stay away and be available by phone if needed.
Coleman said he’ll make sure that whoever does attend is separated from others by at least 6 feet.
Commissioners reached for comment — Coleman, Jeff Kinnard and Jimmie T. Smith — said social distancing seems the best preventative measure. All three said they supported Howard’s order for temperature screenings in the courthouse.
“Most, if not everybody, should be OK with that on a short-term basis,” Kinnard said. “I think people understand this is a different time.”
Kinnard, who is a chiropractor, said he made the decision on Saturday to close his office to protect patients and staff.
“I felt like a two-week break would hopefully get us past the flash point in this fight against the virus,” he said. “Hopefully it’s two weeks, but nobody knows at this point.”
The board’s agenda Thursday is routine — a 1:35 p.m. budget presentation, zoning public hearing at 5 p.m., plus regular business. There is nothing on the agenda related to the county’s emergency declaration of the coronavirus pandemic.
Smith said the county commission should continue to conduct normal business to show the public that work is still taking place, even in a crisis.
“We should be able to have a meeting. If we keep our distance, we’ll be in good shape,” he said.
The order for temperature screening came in Wednesday afternoon. It states that Citrus County Fire Rescue personnel will screen courthouse visitors and employees with a digital laser forehead thermometer. Oliver said the county in April is expected to receive walk-through temperature screeners, which will be overseen by sheriff’s bailiffs who now conduct security screening at the courthouse entrance.
Coleman said social distancing seems like the best way for most people to avoid the potential of being infected.
“As elected leaders, we need to set that viewpoint,” he said. “I do think distancing does help.”
And that includes working at home when available, he said, particularly for employees who are concerned about their own health.
“If they’re having conditions or are a senior, we need to accommodate them,” Coleman said. “I don’t want people coming to work thinking it’s a death sentence. That’s just not good business. Our number one concern should be our employees.”
Oliver said the county has yet to finalize a work-at-home procedure. He also said it wouldn’t be fair for some employees to work at home while others cannot, because their particular job duties require them to stay in an office or be out in the community.
“To the extent we can do it, we’re trying to accommodate those requests,” he said. “I want to make sure they’re working at home and performing duties, while also making sure others are not taking up the slack for people not there. If they’re able to be 100 percent productive from home, the answer is we can easily do that.”
Scott Carnahan returned a reporter's call for comment. This story was changed to reflect that.