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Commissioners, Health Director Discuss COVID-19 Strategy

Sunday, March 22, 2020
Commissioners, Health Director Discuss COVID-19 Strategy

At Wednesday’s scheduled meeting of the Gaines County Commissioners Court, the gallery was filled with a full complement of city and county officials as the Court met with Zach Holbrooks, Executive Director of the South Plains Public Health Department, concerning ongoing developments related to the novel COVID-19 virus. The intent was to discuss the local response to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s recent “state of disaster” declaration.

Holbrooks began with the most recent update on the virus in the region, including new confirmed cases in Lubbock and Hockley Counties. He explained that his department communicates with the Department of State Health Services each afternoon and described the varying means by which he communicates the most recent information to the public.

Holbrooks has begun to meet weekly with County Judge Tom Keyes, Seminole Mayor John Belcher, and City Administrator Tommy Phillips to share information and coordinate efforts. He said that he hopes to announce testing locations soon, and that an additional two million test kits are expected to be shipped by week’s end.

“The most important thing is to protect the most vulnerable among us,” Holbrooks told the Court. Those are primarily persons over the age of 65 and those with underlying health issues such as diabetes, hypertension, or otherwise compromised immune systems.

Included in the discussion that followed was whether it would be appropriate or beneficial for Gaines County to declare its own state of emergency. Judge Keyes questioned whether such a declaration was necessary to obtain a temporary exemption from the imposition of state Senate Bill 2, which sets a 3.5% cap on property tax increases, beginning in 2020.

It is anticipated that tax collections will be severely hampered by a general downturn in the economy, particularly in the energy sector.

Area Emergency Management Director Robert Barrett told the Court that he believed that each county was covered by the state’s own emergency declaration.

Keyes told the individual County department heads that he would leave it to their discretion to determine policy regarding public access to their respective offices, some of which receive more foot traffic than others. “I’m not going to tell you how to run your offices,” Keyes said.

County Clerk Terri Berry said that she would likely receive those doing business with her office by appointment only. That is a measure that was to be instituted on Thursday by Seminole City Hall, including the Municipal Court. Holbrooks said that similar measures have been taken by his Health District office.

Gaines County Tax Assessor-Collector Susan Shaw said that, due to Governor Abbott’s temporary moratorium on vehicle registration deadline requirements, she anticipates less traffic in her office. The status of these offices with regard to public access will likely remain fluid for the near term.

The Court will reconvene for a called meeting on Monday, March 23rd to further discuss the county’s response to the coronavirus matter, and to address agenda items that were tabled on Wednesday in the absence of Commissioners Biz Houston and Brian Rosson.

The Court did move on other agenda items, clearing the way for the County to begin accepting bids for concrete paving of Gaines County Golf Course cart paths. At the request of Golf Pro Shaun McDonald, Commissioners Craig Belt and David Murphree also approved a onetime Texas Golf Association fee for course rating and measurement.

Commissioners also approved the repair of hail damage at the Memorial Cemetery, authorized the purchase of a new distributor for Precinct 3, decided to reject existing bids for paving work at the airport in favor of going out for new bids for hotmix for the project, and discussed bids for the sale of property in Precinct 2.

The Court tabled, until Monday, the purchase of equipment and software for Justice of the Peace #2, a plan to consider a trade of two types of aggregate, and a telephone discussion with attorney Chuck Kimbrough on matters regarding funding from the 2020 state Transportation Fund program.

He (Holbrooks) hopes to announce testing locations soon, and that an additional two million kits are expected to be shipped by week’s end.