La PORTE — La Porte County government buildings are again closed to the public as coronavirus cases continue to skyrocket in the area, and across Indiana.
“As the COVID positive data continue to trend in the wrong direction, our employees remain front and center of our concern,” Sheila Matias, president of the La Porte County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement.
“Because of that and to help reduce the potential of workplace spread while also protecting the public, I have conferred with my fellow commissioners and I am exercising my authority ... to return county operations to the hybrid model we used in late March through the end of June where county building doors (other than the courthouses) are locked and visits were by appointment only.”
Michigan City and La Porte city have also announced similar plans in recent days as new cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to increase across the state and county.
As of Monday, the La Porte County Health Department was reporting 3,934 cases in the county. Those included 1,621 in La Porte, 1,373 in Michigan City, 202 in Westville, 109 in Rolling Prairie, 72 in Union Mills, 54 in Wanatah, 43 in Kingsford Heights, 41 in Mill Creek, 35 in Hanna, 19 in LaCrosse, 8 in Kingsbury, and 4 each in Trail Creek, Long Beach and Michiana Shores.
The county’s total also includes 290 cases at the Westville Correctional Facility, and 51 at the Indiana State Prison.
County employees were told to meet with their supervisors on scheduling and work requirements. “Wherever possible, service to the public will be via phone, email, fax, U.S. Mail and by appointment only as appropriate,” Matias said.
“Employees who are older, immune compromised and those who can perform their function remotely will work with their supervisors to arrange for a remote work schedule to reduce workplace density.”
Courts and other judicial functions will need time to adjust their schedules, but will “work together to move in this direction as they did previously,” Matias said.
One court wasted no time in doing so.
The La Porte Circuit Court announced Tuesday that it will return to its hybrid model immediately.
“Effective Nov. 16, all matters before the La Porte Circuit Court will be conducted by Zoom unless otherwise directed by the Court. In person hearings will only be allowed on an ‘as needed’ basis,” said Jason Schadt, court chief of staff, in a statement
“This is reserved for plea entry, sentencing and trial setting if a defendant, in a criminal matter, has no means to appear remotely.”
He said the court would require advance notice to provide security or the party will not be allowed in the building.
Criminal court calls can be accessed via a Zoom link for the Wednesday and Friday calls, which will be attached to that list.
Any hearing that does not need direct action of the Court should be continued until one of the three types of hearings above is needed, Schadt said.
County buildings were locked to the public on Monday unless there are extenuating circumstances such as scheduled court proceedings, Matias said.
Signs have been placed on all exterior doors.
“I know you can all rise once again to this challenge,” the commissioner said in a letter to staff.
“I know we are all COVID-weary but now more than ever, we need to be vigilant – and kind. Your service to this community is exemplary and because we are county employees, we set the example for others to follow.
“Show your caring spirit by following every precaution to keep our families, loved ones and neighbors safe from this insidious virus.”