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Many offices grappling with providing services while limiting COVID-19 risk

CITY OF ST. HELENS - St. Helens staff sanitizes parks following the novel coronavirus outbreak. 'While we did disinfect the playground equipment today, it is not possible to do this often enough at all of our parks to ensure that these high touch surfaces are being disinfected as frequently as they should be according to the cleaning guidelines for COVID-19 (coronavirus),' the city cautioned. Park visitors should wash hands thorough before and after using park equipment; bring hand sanitizer to the park; bring lawn games to the park; use the walking trails; and avoid the park if at all sick.Updated March 23 with changes to jail visitation and library produce distribution

Columbia County and the cities of Scappoose and St. Helens each declared a state of emergency last week in response to COVID-19.

Scappoose and St. Helens government offices are closed to the public, though staff are still working inside. Both cities will reevaluate closures on a weekly basis.

The county is closing the Columbia County Courthouse to the public, except those who have appointments, effective March 23.

As of press time Thursday, weekly commission meetings and work sessions were still scheduled to proceed as usual.

City staff will continue working but will not be available for in-person contact, except for planned essential in-person meetings. Staff can be reached by telephone or email.

Until further notice, water services will not be suspended due to unpaid utility bills in either city. Residents are encouraged to use city websites to make utility bill payments.

Port of Columbia County offices are also closed to the public.

Libraries

The Scappoose and St. Helens public libraries are both closed.

Returns can still be made to the book drops located outside the libraries, though overdue fees will not be charged during the closure. The Scappoose Public Library can be reached at 503-543-7123. St. Helens Library can be contacted at 503-397-4544. Patrons who need state or federal tax forms should call the St. Helens Library to make an appointment to pick up the forms.

The libraries' Facebook pages will be updated with any changes.

Digital library services, including eBooks, audio books, online databases, and other services are available through library websites and library2go.overdrive.com.

Scappoose library staff are also posting daily literacy challenges and video story times on Facebook.

The Scappoose library has suspended its weekly free produce distribution. The library typically supplies fresh produce from the Columbia Pacific Food Bank on Tuesdays from noon to 2 p.m.

First responders

Offices for the Scappoose Police Department, Scappoose Fire District, Columbia River Fire and Rescue, and St. Helens Police Department are closed to the public. Scappoose Police Chief Norm Miller said officers are provided personal protective equipment. Officers are "using our best judgment when taking priority calls, as we are on the frontlines when a 911 call comes in and we will still respond to those calls," Miller explained in an email to the Spotlight.

Miller said officers are taking reports or answering questions over the phone rather than in person, when possible. Officers may also ask citizens to speak with them outside of their residences to reduce the chance of exposure.

"For most citizens, they should be satisfied if we explain that we are not entering houses unless necessary out of an abundance of caution," Miller wrote. "In short, we are being mindful that distancing during our contacts is important, and that ours and the public's safety is our priority."

The Columbia County Sheriff's Office is handling the COVID-19 outbreak "one day at a time," Sheriff Brian Pixley wrote in an email to the Spotlight.

Pixley said Columbia County Jail staff had implemented new procedures in the jail in light of the outbreak, including expanded screening of incoming inmates. The jail has also canceled classes and programming for inmates to reduce the potential spread of the virus inside and outside the jail. On Monday, March 23, the sheriff's office announced it would immediately close to walk-in traffic.

Visitation with inmates was suspended effective March 23, though inmate visitation already occurred through a glass divider. Only attorneys or other professionals meeting clients are permitted to visit inmates under the new restrictions. Inmates can still send and receive letters and make phone calls. Phone calls and supplies to write and send letters typically cost money to inmates, but Pixley said that would change given the suspension of visitation.

"We will be providing additional envelopes, letters, etc free of charge to help ensure the inmates are able to connect with their loved ones," Pixley wrote in an email to the Spotlight on Monday. "We will also be providing them with some free phone calls as necessary so they can stay connected."

Transit

Columbia County Rider has provided hand sanitizer, disposable gloves and chlorine wipes to bus drivers. Bus cleaning "has been reoriented to place a higher emphasis on interior rather than exterior cleanliness," Interim Transit Director John Dreeszen explained. Dreeszen said CC Rider has experienced lower ridership on the Portland route, Portland Community College Rock Creek campus, and Dial-a-Ride services.

"These are primarily a result of staffing decisions by some Portland employers, the move to on-line finals and Spring Term classes at PCC and some local closures in St. Helens, including the Senior Center and Library," Dreeszen explained. "We're also learning that some medical facilities are migrating to phone visits whenever possible to help keep vulnerable patients from needing to venture out."


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