WAHOO – An outbreak of COVID-19 in the Saunders County Clerk’s staff has closed the office until further notice during a very busy time of year.
On Monday, a sign was posted on the door and County Clerk Patti Lindgren informed the media that the office was closing because of the coronavirus. In an interview with the Wahoo Newspaper, Lindgren said she herself had tested positive, along with one of her employees. As a result, the Three Rivers Public Health Department advised the office be closed to the public for the time being. Lindgren is hopeful that the quarantine will end next week.
“We all should be past the quarantine date by Oct. 13,” she said.
The staff members who have not tested positive for COVID-19 and are not showing symptoms will continue to work in the office behind closed doors, Lindgren said. She will come in at night as well, but will take all precautions to keep from spreading the virus, including staying mainly in her office, wearing a mask at all times and sanitizing any area where she has worked.
All staff will wear masks while working in the office, Lindgren said. The staff will enter and exit the building through an east door that is not regularly used by the public. Social distancing will be strongly enforced, she added.
The timing isn’t great for Lindgren and her staff, who are right in the middle of preparations for the General Election on Nov. 3. Voter interest is naturally higher because it is a presidential election year, but their work load has increased dramatically with the uptick in interest for mail-in ballots and early voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lindgren’s office mailed 4,000 early voter ballots on Sept. 28. She anticipates many voters will want to cast their ballot early, but in person.
“The Secretary of State warned us that quite a few people want to vote in (the county clerk’s) office,” she said.
The first day to do vote early was Monday, Lindgren said, so the closure could have caused some complications for those who planned to stop by the clerk’s office and vote that day. But voters can go across the hall to the County Zoning and Planning office to obtain voter registration and early ballot request forms, Lindgren said.
The zoning office is also assisting their neighbors during the shutdown by taking mail that needs to go from the clerk’s office to the post office. The County Treasurer’s staff is delivering mail and items placed in the outside drop box to the clerk’s office. Lindgren said she “deputized” these employees to allow them to help her staff. All deliveries to and from the clerk’s office are being made with no contact, Lindgren added.
Despite the closure, Lindgren assures the public that the procedures for early voting and mail-in voting are continuing.
“We want to ensure the public that everything is very secure and everything is being processed as required by law,” she said.
That includes depositing all early voting ballots in locked ballot boxes once they have been processed, Lindgren said.
Even with all the complications, Lindgren said her staff has risen to the challenge during this closure.
“Everything is running really well now,” she said.
The requests for early ballots must be received by Oct. 23, another task Lindgren’s staff will do in the same timely manner as before the closure. Early ballots have to be returned by mail or in person by 8 p.m. Nov. 3.
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