Ritchie County Courthouse

Citizens seeking entrance to the courthouse were locked out of the building.  

The restrictions required a prior appointment with the office and person whom they wanted to see.

Visitors had to ring inside, announce their business and wait until someone from that office appeared at the door to take their temperature.  If the temperature tested within normal range, the visitor could be admitted and escorted to their destination.

These restrictions were adopted by the county commission in a well-meaning effort to protect elected officials and their staff from exposure to the virus. They are much more restrictive than those of any surrounding county.

Restricted access, coupled with generous time-off policies, allowed employees to take their vacation time, but forbade them from returning to work until they obtained a negative COVID-19 test result.  

Although a rapid test result could be obtained at a number of locations in the Parkersburg-Marietta area, if employees chose to take a test locally at the Ritchie Regional Health Center, those results were not available for another four to five days.

Employees were paid to stay at home until they received the negative COVID-19 test result before returning to work. There was no incentive for any employee to obtain a rapid test and get back to work as soon as possible, when they could enjoy a paid after-vacation break.

If the goal of these restrictions was to shun the public like biblical lepers while allowing courthouse employees to work in a coronavirus-free facility, they have failed. 

As a breaking news item reported last week on our website, and also on our Facebook page, a second courthouse employee fell ill with COVID-19 midweek. 

That person had reportedly been to an exercise class the night before with approximately 10 others, who were also potentially exposed, and who may have also exposed a number of other people – or not.  No one knows for sure. 

That is the great dilemma of this pandemic. When, where and how is it safe to mingle with the public at-large?  It really isn’t until the COVID-19 virus is brought under control.   

That is why the commissioners’ restricted policy has a gaping hole in it.

Even if county officials and employees are cloistered away from public infection in their closed courthouse cocoon during normal business hours, they all head out the door at 4 p.m. each weekday.

What they each do on their own time is their own business – even if it means they engage in unsafe conduct.

When one or more of them choose to not wear masks in public; to not wash and sanitize their hands regularly; to attend a holiday, birthday, wedding, funeral or large indoor group activity – which are known prime community spreader events – they are in effect playing a dangerous game of COVID-19 Russian roulette. 

Each person must adhere to safety restrictions at all times and at all places in order for them to work.  If only one employee or a member of their family is exposed during some activity, the entire system is compromised.

Courthouse employees are important – but so are the ambulance service personnel, police and fire department first responders, doctors, nurses and healthcare providers, none of whom can hide from COVID-19.

The managers and staff who keep our Shop ’n Save Express, Family Dollar, Dollar General, auto parts stores, restaurants, gasoline stations and Walgreen’s Drug Store open and functioning are crucial to community safety. 

The same with the directors and staff of the Raiguel and McCullough Funeral Homes in Harrisville and Pennsboro, who have performed services under the most difficult of circumstances.

The unsung heroes at Pineview Continuous Care have suffered beyond measure while caring for our aged, sick and dying family and friends.  They bear the COVID-19 burden, often while sick themselves and barely able to go.   

But especially important in this pandemic are the school teachers, bus drivers, service personnel and administrators who are doing great work looking after the education, transportation and dietary needs of our young students. They have done exceptional work while being whip-sawed back and forth at the whim of our erratic governor, who changes school schedules almost daily.

Why are elected officials and courthouse employees so much more special than all these other folks?  They are not, of course.

Come on commissioners.  Open the courthouse, serve the public and get with the program! 

Let the courthouse employees do their best to take care, be safe and stay healthy, just like everyone else.