Lyon County Administrative Judge Merlin Wheeler approached county commissioners with a tentative plan to bring increased visitor screening to the courthouse during a brief action session Thursday.
Referring to the county’s overall COVID-19 numbers and the continuing appearance of new cases locally, Wheeler said a new electronic check-in system could help prevent risk for all parties involved. Located at public entrances, the proposed system would bring kiosks in the courthouse, hosting iPads for visitors to fill out a virtual questionnaire on recent health history and symptoms. The system would then signal to security staff as to whether or not the individual passed the screening, allowing them to make a decision to permit or deny entry on a case-by-case basis.
Wheeler admitted that there would be kinks to work out if the system was installed — such as reducing the time to check in and limiting close contact between visitors should there be a line — but said he was confident the system would begin to run more smoothly with increased practice.
“Based upon what I see just up and down Commercial Street, I have some real concerns about whether people are actively observing what the recommendations are for their own safety and care,” Wheeler said. “I’ll just be point blank about that. I think there’s an intentional disregard by some people based on the belief that this isn’t a real problem or the belief that it is a real problem but that ‘I’m personally not going to get it.’ So, I think everybody should be subject to these screenings, with no exceptions.”
Commissioners agreed with the importance of acquiring some sort of screening system, but said further research would need to be done on cost and implementation before any official purchase — which Wheeler expects to fall in the range of about $5,000 per year —could be carried out. At this time, additional District Court staff will be traveling to Topeka this week for a hands-on look at a similar system being used at the Kansas Judicial Center. Conversations are expected to continue between Wheeler and the county commission in upcoming action sessions.
“It’s important to get something done soon, because we have had some issues arise just this week with the use of the remote audio/visual connection system that we have,” Wheeler said. “It’s not with the system itself, but with individuals who have decided that it’s in their best interest to delay hearings that were already scheduled by simply telling us that they don’t have a cell phone, internet connection or access to a computer. Some people are using this situation to delay the possibility of adverse consequences to them through skipping criminal proceedings.”