County restricts public access, shifts emergency operations center

Published 10:03 am Tuesday, March 24, 2020

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Beaufort County government is limiting public access to county offices starting Tuesday morning.

The action comes in response to the spread of COVID-19 in North Carolina, and is in an effort to maximize social distancing and strictly limit the number of face-to-face interactions between employees and residents.

“For our public and our county employees, we’re trying to minimize exposure for both for those groups of folks,” said Beaufort County Manager Brian Alligood.

Beaufort County implemented a three-tiered modification of county operations shortly after the county declared a state of emergency on March 12, in conjunction with the state’s declaration. Tier 1 called for increased social distancing and cleaning procedures in internal county offices, as well as offices that have public-facing operations. Tier 1 was implemented on March 16. Tier 2 called for moving face-to-face transactions to areas that provided glass separation. Tier 3 further restricted access by limiting all public access and continuing operations through phone and electronic means, and requiring appointments for all others.

The county is now in Tier 3.

“That doesn’t mean that county operations are stopping. We are still providing services, but they will be occurring in a different manner,” Alligood said.

Alligood said county staff will accommodate by appointment those interactions that must happen face to face, and will be asking visitors a series of screening questions prior to the appointment, but all other residents are asked to do business by phone or online.

By North Carolina law, Beaufort County Department of Social Services must remain open to those whose only option to access public assistance applications or other paperwork is to do so in person.

“They’re still going to do that, but it will just be in a more distanced manner,” Alligood said.

All county offices will be open the same hours/days of operation, only the manner in which they operate will change.

“We will be continuing business, just in a different way. It might look clunky. It might be slower.

This unfortunately looks like it’s going to be a long-term event, so we’ve got to make adjustments for that to be in it for the long run,” Alligood said.

News over the weekend prompted the county, in consultation with the health director and the local epidemiology task force, to skip from a Tier 1 response to Tier 3, based on the trajectory of the disease.

“The trigger point for us was when there was a positive case in Beaufort County, but when we started picking up cases in surrounding counties and the state said we had community spread, we decided to skip ahead to Tier 3 and limit access to public areas,” Alligood said.

As of Monday evening, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Beaufort County.

The county also announced Monday that the Emergency Operations Center has moved from the health department to the emergency services. Beaufort County Health Director Jim Madson remains the incident commander. The unified command will provide additional resources, as well as physically distance the EOC from potential exposure to the virus, according to Alligood.

For more information, visit the county website at Residents who need to conduct face-to-face business are asked to call the specific department/office before visiting in person to discuss alternative service delivery options and/or make an appointment.