Both the Manhattan city government and Riley County decided in separate meetings Wednesday afternoon to close city and county buildings to the public.
In addition, the Riley County Commission unanimously approved declaring a local emergency declaration, which provides possible emergency funding to area entities, because of COVID-19. However, that potential funding is not guaranteed, officials said.
Riley County chair Marvin Rodriguez said the commission ultimately decided to issue a local emergency disaster declaration in order to open up doors for potential funding for area entities. Rodriguez previously said Wednesday morning there was no need for a declaration because “we’re not in a disaster situation yet.”
The county’s local emergency declaration lasts for seven days, and the commission can choose to extend it.
Both the city and county building closures are effective starting Thursday, officials said. The county is closing buildings for 14 days. City Hall and many city facilities, except the Manhattan Regional Airport, are closed to the public until April 6, according to a city press release.
This closure does not include the county’s transfer station, which will operate from 7 am. to 3 p.m. now, the Riley County Commission decided Monday.
Riley County Health Department Director Julie Gibbs recommended the closures and declaration as entities work to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Essential staff, such as emergency responders and certain public works employees, will still report to work for the city and county, officials said.
At the county level, those who work in the offices or from home will receive regular pay, although officials said many people across county departments cannot work from home. The county is issuing administrative pay to people who are not working.
The city did not indicate in the release how they are paying employees during this time period.
Manhattan Mayor Usha Reddi, who attended the county meeting, raised concerns about county employees not using social distancing if they are still working closely together in offices.
“So I don’t know how all your departments, how many groups you all meet in, but social distancing is extremely important because we can all be carriers right now,” Reddi said.
She asked the county how they are practicing social distancing.
“So how are you practicing social distancing if you’re continuing business as usual? This is not so much as the public, but it is about all of us,” she said.
Riley County clerk Rich Vargo said county employees are educated on social distancing, but operations must move along unless President Donald Trump relieves staff of statutory duties.
“But until the president calls off the election, and I’m relieved of my statutory duties, (we have to work),” Vargo said. “If (county appraiser Greg McHenry) and his staff don’t get it done, we don’t get a tax roll done. The city needs us to get a tax roll done, the school district needs a tax roll done. So (we’re working) to the best of our abilities to make extra precautions to be safe and clean about everything.”
Vargo said the county is doing the best it can in regard to social distancing and also completing necessary work.
County officials are still working on plans for the public to communicate with departments during this closure, but people can call offices now instead of going into county offices to limit in-person contact.
People can reach out to city officials via email or phone during regular business hours.