Clay County's COVID task force continues its mission
Monday, September 7, 2020
It's been said that many hands makes light work. As communities across the world face down a pandemic, they need all the help they can get. Within Clay County, a somewhat loose conglomerate of local government, health care, emergency personnel and business organizations have continued to meet each weekday as the Clay County COVID-19 task force. A typical meeting includes representatives from the city of Spencer, Clay County Board of Supervisors, Clay County Public Health & Emergency Management as well as the Spencer Hospital, area law enforcement and Spencer Fire Department but many other regional players and agencies are also part of the effort whether regularly or intermittently as needed.
"We share information, we problem solve, we communicate with one another to really try to make the best community decision that we can based on information from the hospital and public health," Spencer City Manager Amanda Mack said. "The decisions that we have made as a city I'm proud to say have not been emotional decisions, they're based on circumstances and information in front of us and that’s a really good thing about this group, is that while we have been frustrated throughout this time, because who isn’t? We don’t let that guide our decisions. We take a really thoughtful and pragmatic approach to how as a community we handle COVID-19."
The community task force approach utilized by Clay County has been described as a unique approach by Spencer Mayor Kevin Robinson. Robinson first shared the force's formation back in March during a press conference.
“We started to meet with key community stakeholders and having discussions from the operational side of things, from the interactive side of things,” Robinson said during the press conference. “How we would need to communicate back out to the public, what the messaging should be and what the needs of the key organizations in the community are. As you well know, the releases that we get from the federal government as well as the state government, sometimes not only change day to day but can change throughout the day."
"Early early on in COVID, right after we closed the library which if you remember was the first domino back then, in a conversation with the mayor and I, we thought that we need to know how others in the community are intending to react to the situation," Mack explained. "One, so that we can provide support if needed. Two, our messages are aligned so the community has a clear message from leadership, but also just as an opportunity to share concerns or ideas. Our first meeting we actually held in person. It was the city, county, ... Clay County EMS was there and from there we decided, 'hey this needs to be a regular conversation.' Through the mayor’s network we decided it’s probably good if we bring in leadership from the other clay county communities as well, they may be seeing things different than we are here in Spencer, this is affecting everyone, it would be helpful for them to participate."
Much like the fate of most meetings during COVID-19, the in-person task force meetings quickly became an online affair.
"We quickly decided that meeting in person probably wasn't the best idea," Mack said. "We have met every weekday with very few exceptions since mid March. Sometimes our meetings are five minutes and not a lot to report, sometimes they last an hour or more if things are really ramping up as it relates to COVID or if new guidelines have come out. ... We view it from an employer perspective and also a community perspective. There are a lot of webs to walkthrough with all of this."
"When you have a disaster, tornado, flood or whatever, something that's going to take some time that's a significant event then you open what's called an emergency operations center," Clay County Emergency Manager Eric Tigges said. "The EOC would be in this building, under typical circumstances, we open the EOC and do the logistics, information gathering for that event here. Well, we've never had a pandemic, so you talk about a pandemic and literally bringing all your community decision makers into one room, probably not a great idea. We opened what is called a virtual EOC. ... It's a great place to come together everyday at 4:30 p.m. share what we've learned to share where we're currently at."
Both Tigges and Mack said a benefit of the task force is shielding against misinformation. The city manager said that she'd like to think the messaging and approach has been a factor in mitigating positive cases in the county.
"There's a lot of personal responsibility that has gone into making sure that people are staying safe and doing the right thing, I also think that we’ve used a non-alarmist approach and to be clear, COVID is a very serious thing and it has the potential to be incredibly detrimental to our community," Mack said. "But with clear messaging and not producing a 'the sky is falling' feel in the community, I think that also helps people wrap their heads around it a little bit better.
She continued, "As entities we are also trying to lead by example. We’re not saying to the community wear a mask, social distance and then we’re not doing that. When you come into City Hall we’re wearing masks, staying within 6 feet of one another, the county is doing the same thing. It doesn't mean we always get it right but ... if we’re not leading by example how on earth can the community take us seriously?"
As long as the pandemic continues its presence in the region, state and country, the task force will continue to meet each weekday in order to take on the challenges of life during COVID-19. For many in the community, including members of the task force, it's been an experience like no other.
"They absolutely don't teach you about this in city manager school," Mack said with a laugh.