Jefferson County Commission Kicks Staff Out of Meeting as COVID Rages Across the Community

Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens and Commissioner Lashunda Scales. (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens opened the commission committee meeting Tuesday by sending department heads and staff out of the room to guard against the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

“It’s a reminder for those people that we need to continue to practice social distancing,” Stephens said after the meeting.

The commission president cited reports that cloth face masks are not the most effective in protecting against the spread of the omicron variant.

“You need to do a KN95 or an N95 mask, if indeed you feel at risk,” Stephens said. “The main thing to do is to practice your social distancing because if the masks are proved ineffective, the only other tool we have if we’re going to come to work is … either management needs to supply everyone with KN95 or N95 masks or we need to practice social distancing.

“I pretty much told staff through the county manager that they should be on Zoom or be virtual,” he said, “and let the commission tend to the business of the commission.”

Stephens’ comments came as omicron rages across the state. Alabama reached a record 38.5% positivity rate Tuesday as another 7,562 new cases were reported and 41 new deaths.

Jefferson County contributed 1,501 of those cases and four of the deaths, and the positivity rate broke 40% for the first time.

In total, 921,175  Alabamians have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began. Every county in the state is classified as being at high risk of community transmission of the virus.

The surge is taxing emergency departments at hospitals across the city, a UAB doctor said in a press briefing last week. On Tuesday night, UAB sent an ‘urgent message saying:

“Please do not visit the emergency department to access COVID testing or for symptoms or reasons that do not require emergent care. Emergency departments are experiencing record numbers of patients presenting with COVID, which is resulting in significantly longer wait times for all patients, including those with emergency needs. If you are experiencing non-life threatening COVID symptoms, including a sore throat and stuffy nose, please stay home. Consider contacting your primary care doctor or an urgent care clinic if you need medical care for cold symptoms or non-life threatening COVID symptoms.

In a related matter, County Attorney Theo Lawson reminded commissioners that the county’s COVID leave plan, which gives COVID-positive or quarantined workers an extra 10 days off, runs out Jan. 13. Commissioners moved to the agenda an extension of that leave plan, pending a recommendation from Lawson.

“We’ve generally done it in six-month increments,” he said. “I’m going to propose six months. Let’s see what it looks like from there. Those folks that have not used or taken advantage of the opportunity may very well need this service.”

Club Zoning

Among other things, commissioners moved to Thursday’s agenda a zoning item for a venue in Dora that would be used for a private club. Stephens expressed concern that the club could open as a bingo establishment.

“Everyone understand that if this is unincorporated Jefferson County, you cannot issue a permit or a license or anything in which to do bingo, either paper or electronic or anything,” he said. “We can bring this in (for consideration at Thursday’s meeting) but I would like to know what this private club intends to do.”