County, Oak Hill talk COVID

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The coronavirus pandemic was a main point of discussion during Monday’s meeting of the Monroe County Board.

The meeting was held in public session at the courthouse and virtually via telephone and computer connections. The gradual reopening of the courthouse and the virtual meetings are part of the county’s reaction to the COVID-19 health issue.

Monroe County Health Administrator John Wagner gave the latest case numbers in Monroe County and reiterated that masks required to be worn when social distancing is not possible are not intended to make their wearers safer from the virus. Rather, they are to reduce the possibility of anyone who may unknowingly have COVID-19 from spreading it by coughing or sneezing and expelling fluid particles into the air.  

Commissioner Vicki Koerber expressed concerns about Gov. JB Pritzker’s recent assessment of the coronavirus danger in Monroe County. Wagner said there was exaggeration in discussions on both extremes.

He said that while the county has no testing centers, citizens are being referred by physicians to Memorial Hospital in Belleville and Red Bud Regional Hospital for testing.  He said the health department is continuing all of its routine services in addition to meticulously tracking contacts of any individuals with newly reported positive tests in the county.

Wagner also acknowledged that reopening businesses and activities will probably result in some increases in positive test numbers. But, he added, reopening with appropriate precautions is a financial survival necessity.  

Wagner said Illinois will be able to see early results of reopening in the nearby states of Indiana, Missouri outside of St. Louis and Tennessee.

The COVID-19 issue was also a subject for Kim Keckritz and Suzy Volanksy, who attended the meeting virtually from Oak Hill Senior Living & Rehabilitation. 

It was noted that several Oak Hill employees have expressed concern about continuing to work while the virus is present.  Oak Hill has taken extensive successful steps to minimize impacts there, including stopping visits, limiting movement in the facility, screening all employees as they come to work and conducting daily reviews.  

To date, three employees and no residents have tested positive, although some 16 employees who have been tested negative cannot return to work until they are fully cleared. Two of the three employees who tested positive have cleared the 14-day window of quarantine after receiving positive results.

Keckritz proposed pay incentives to encourage employees to continue working – including hourly incentive pays for the next two pay periods.  The commissioners voted to add $3 an hour “added shift pays” to persons taking on additional work shifts to replace people away from work for testing during the month of May, not to exceed a total of $10,000.  

To date, commissioners were told that 18 Oak Hill employees in various positions are off for various reasons, including monitoring of possible illness symptoms.

In a related matter, Commissioner Dennis Knobloch is forming and chairing a committee to recommend a new administrator for Oak Hill. Knobloch said he wanted to include people familiar with operations at Oak Hill in the group, including members of the facility’s advisory and endowment boards.

Keckritz had been scheduled to move to a part-time role when Rachel Giffhorn was to assume the role earlier this year, but Giffhorn declined the job offer, citing a desire to spend more time with her family. Keckritz has expressed a desire to retire in a few years.

The group will review resumes of people who have applied for the job and hopes to have recommendations for the position by the next county board session on May 18.

Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger told commissioners that a low bid of $183,455 was received from Lake Contracting of Addieville to construct a new bridge on C Road over a tributary to Bond Creek south of Valmeyer. Commissioners approved the plan.

Metzger also said he is seeking a federal grant under the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development program to raise Bluff Road between Hanover and HH Roads above the flood plain.  He noted citizens of Monroe County have been forced to take alternate routes during numerous Mississippi River floods in past years.  The commissioners authorized  Metzger to apply for the grant. 

A resolution was approved to transfer property on the edge of Miles Cemetery to the county’s ownership.  

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