Cautious optimism greets lighter Covid response

Published 12:30 pm Wednesday, March 30, 2022

By KAREN THIEL for the Washington Daily News

In the happy afterglow of recently loosened Covid-19 restrictions, city and county leaders are expressing optimism about the possibility that, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, now is the right time to “move from an emergency response to one that minimizes daily disruptions to our lives.” 

“We are coming up on the two year mark with Covid. We’ve adjusted some of our ways of conducting business here, and are keeping our staff flexible as we look forward to returning to some type of normalcy as soon as possible,” said Washington City Manager Jonathan Russell. “I think people are eager to get back to normal meetings and just conducting day-to-day business, but cautiously.”

Feelings are similar at county offices, where Katie Mosher said things are “going fine. We never shut own. Our people came to work every day.” Mosher, who is clerk for the Board of Commissioners, said there “really wasn’t a mask mandate here, as opposed to the heath department and other obvious places” where employees were frequently in contact with people whose health status was unknown and potentially dangerous.

Things were considered to be going so well, countywide, that Health Director James Madson was told that he no longer needed to appear at monthly commission meetings to present pandemic-related updates. “We got to a place where all we need now is a quarterly report or email,” said Frankie Waters, who chairs the commission. “We are in a good position. There is still concern about our older population, usually anyone over 65 years of age, but the time has come for most of us not to wear a mask,” Waters said this week.

Caution is still high at area spots that attract a larger than usual contingent of older residents and visitors — both of Washington’s libraries among them. “Masks are available on request and we are recommending masks be worn here, but not demanding that,” said Karey Blanchard, director of the BHM Library on North Market Street. “However we have eight branches statewide, some in areas that still have high infection rates, so at those locations we are making them do so.” Equal concern was shared by Sandra Silvey, director of the George H. and Laura E. Brown Library on Van Norden Street, where cautious signage is still posted on the front door.

“When things started to change with the government’s rules, we did too. We stopped requiring masks in the building a while ago and folks can now enter the buiding,” Silvey said, adding that an entryway table stocked with masks and a hand a sanitation station are still available for those who want just one more cautionary squirt. Silvey said her book lovers appreciate the courtesy, and members of the library staff are overjoyed to see their readers returning.

“It’s always wonderful to hear people talking and kids laughing. We’ve missed everyone terribly. It has been too quiet (during the pandemic). We love having people back in here. That’s what we’re about.”