FRUITLAND - Even as surrounding city halls locked their doors to the public, Fruitland City Hall was still open to the public on March 23 albeit with signs directing visitors to wash their hands before approaching staff. This and other matters affected by novel Coronavirus COVID-19 was discussed at the Fruitland City Council’s second regular meeting of the month that evening. 

At the meeting, the city declared a local disaster emergency. The declaration enables the city to seek reimbursements for COVID-related expenses incurred by the city.

Each department representative present at the meeting detailed what their respective departments were doing to fend off the spread of COVID. Following is a sample of their responses.

- City Clerk Suzanne Pearcy said her department has a game going to discourage touching of one’s own face by requiring them to put a poker chip corresponding to them in a bucket with the fewest chips in being the winner.

“The winner gets a $10 gift card to Starbucks,” Pearcy said. “It is helping breaking the habit of touching your face.”

- Police Chief J.D. Huff said his department has had trouble with workplace distancing due to the small size of their headquarters. Otherwise, the department is minimizing public contact outside of responding to urgent calls for assistance.

“All we’re doing really is washing our hands, making sure that place is sanitary as it can be all the time,” Huff reported. “Everybody’s very, very vigilant about that.”

The police department door is locked to public access, and fingerprinting is suspended at this time. The department is also not participating in neighborhood watch program meetings or group trainings during the outbreak. They are working with Payette County Sheriff’s office to ensure response to emergency calls remains adequate.

Huff said the outbreak doesn’t mean people won’t be arrested for violent offenses, but rather the focus at the Payette County Jail is making sure those who need to be jailed are due to limited space at the facility. Huff said public safety will not be sacrificed.

“If people need to go to jail, they’re going to jail,” Huff said. 

- Public Works Director Jerry Campbell said his department hasn’t needed to change much to respond, but his staff are still taking the outbreak seriously.

“But in our day-to-day operations, we don’t necessarily work directly with the public; the guys are outside most of the time,” Campbell said. “I’m just trying to keep everybody informed.”

Campbell said one employee at the city’s water treatment plant was out with a cold and will be staying home this week as well. He said he will not require a doctor’s note.

- Ambulance Director Michelle Giokas said extensive protocols are being implemented; Staff members have to wear N-95 masks and have their temperatures taken. Giokas is following Centers for Disease Control guidelines and sending home any employee who has a 100.4 degree fever. 

“They go home right away,” Giokas said. 

Should an ambulance become affected by what may be COVID, a detailed decontamination process is begun. The decontamination takes four hours.

While Giokas said she is having difficulty getting additional safety equipment, she said her department is still adequate for now as no noticeable increase in the frequency of symptoms. Masks can be reused unless they become compromised, and need to be stored in paper bags as plastic traps moisture.

Giokas said one inmate went on self-isolation due to potential exposure, but the test did come back negative. 

Otherwise, ambulances are being kept locked at all times while not in use, to prevent theft of medical supplies.

During the outbreak, Campbell said the city will not be servicing homeowners’ smoke detectors.

Despite measures taken already, Pearcy said she would feel safer locking the front door as she anticipates the spread of COVID to increase in the coming weeks.

“We really can do everything” by electronic means, Pearcy said. “The nice thing is we have the drive thru.”

There is also a dropbox for customers to deposit payments or paperwork required by the city.

Other than that, Howell said city hall needs to keep serving the public.

“I don’t see any point in shutting down city hall; That doesn’t take care of the people of Fruitland,” Howell said. “The other thing is taking care of the people who work here, and if that means locking the doors is a smart thing to do … we can work around it.”

His Councilors and the several department managers present agreed, with the Council voting to lock the doors during the pandemic.

Under the emergency declaration, Mayor Brian Howell said city employees who become ill during the outbreak will still be paid with city employees will be eligible for full pay for up to two weeks. Under the federal “Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” federal financial assistance takes over for up to 10 weeks afterwards. For those employees who take time off to care for family during the outbreak, they remain eligible for up to two-thirds of their usual pay, according to City Attorney Stephanie Bonney.

Bonney said that during the pandemic, the declaration would exempt the city from laws requiring bids for purchase of emergency supplies and equipment. She clarified that this merely expedites the process of getting needed supplies, instead of waiting for bids to come in during this time.

The Council voted to accept the declaration without changes.

The city’s emergency declaration remains in place until May 1, unless rescinded or extended. The Council will revisit the declaration at their April 27 meeting.

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