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Courthouse, county offices remain closed

The Lowndes County Commission voted Tuesday to keep the Lowndes County Courthouse closed until at least June 16 unless the number of COVID-19 cases in the county begins to decline.

As of Wednesday morning, Lowndes County had seen 10 deaths and 208 confirmed cases of the virus and 560 tests had been conducted. In Alabama, there were 4,974 new cases in the last 14 days and 69,424 tests conducted. In all, state numbers show 15,718 cases in the state out of 194,970 cases. There have been 580 deaths with 1,692 hospitalizations. The state numbers also show 7,951 “presumed recoveries.”

The Commission began discussing the issue as County Administrator Jacquelyn Thomas said she had been speaking with county employees about reopening. Commissioners had originally hoped for a June 1 reopening.

“Employees are saying they’re just afraid to open up to the public,” Thomas said. “They wanted me to relay that message to the commissioners.”

Commissioner Joshua Simmons then asked a question about getting car tags and penalties.

“They’re given a 60-day grace period on driver’s license and license plates,” Commission Chairman Carnell McAlpine said. “If you tag expires in May, you have until July. If it expires in June, you have until August. You can still call and someone will meet you at the door and you’ll get your tag.”

McAlpine said the county has been doing these services. Thomas said the Tax Assessor hadn’t had any problem in the process.

“People are going online or coming to office and calling to get service,” she said.

The Lowndes County Courthouse currently opened for court, however it was opened by state mandate. Commissioner Robert Harris said he was concerned about courts opened and courthouse not.

“If the courthouse is under the county commissioners, then it’s our responsibility for the health and well being of the citizens that are coming in and out of those buildings,” Harris said.

All were concerned asking for the circuit judge to send information about the statute that reopened the courts. Thomas also mentioned previous discussions about reopening the entire courthouse and county offices to the public.

“We’re supposed to open up on Monday and I want to know form the commissioners if the consensus is that we open back up on Monday,” Thomas said.

“I think we ought to start looking at the numbers of the cases coming in,” Simmons said. “We need to see the numbers start to go down before we make a big move to just open it up.”

Harris agreed with Simmons

“We’ve got to figure out a way we can create more testing throughout the county,” he said.

McAlpine agreed it was likely too soon to reopen.

“I personally feel like the numbers need to be stabilized before we open the courthouse,” McAlpine said.

Harris responded.

“We can go ahead and suspend until more testing can be done,” Harris said. “At least 30 days.”

Commissioner Joseph Bargainer suggested looking at it during the next commission meeting. County Attorney Hank Sanders said the Commission needed something on the record one way or another. Commissioner Dickson Farrior suggested remaining closed until at least June 15, giving the chairman the authority to open if the numbers drop or remain closed if they continue to rise.

The Lowndes County Commission will likely meet on June 15 to discuss reopening on June 16.

Bargainer then made a motion to keep the courthouse closed until June 16 and look at matters at some point around that time.

The Commission voted 5-0 to remain closed until June 16.