Commissioners show little interest in contingency planning for any spike in COVID-19 cases.

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DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — At the same Tuesday meeting where they reopened the county’s 26 miles of beaches, Walton County commissioners also reopened the county’s parks and its public golf course. As with the beaches, the parks and golf course will reopen Friday, under the same operating hours in place prior to their closure.

Additionally, as the county has begun loosening restrictions put in place to help halt the spread of COVID-19, the county landfill will reopen for public use on Friday. The landfill will be open Mondays through Saturdays from 6:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., according to an announcement from the county.

In related news, Walton County Administrator Larry Jones told commissioners Tuesday that, with input from the county’s various department directors and managers, at least some county government staff members could be coming back into their offices within a matter of days. Numerous county personnel have been working from home as part of the county’s response to COVID-19.

► APRIL 2, 2020: Walton County COVID-19 hotline has taken hundreds of calls

“We;ll probably begin moving forward within the next week or so to re-staff or bring staff back in,” Jones told commissioners Tuesday.

But even as they are presiding over the reopening of beaches, county amenities and county offices, Walton County commissioners are not talking much, at least publicly, about contingency planning in the event that COVID-19 cases increase in the coming days.

Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson, whose office will bear major responsibility for enforcing the social distancing and other rules associated with efforts locally to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, suggested some days ago that a contingency plan for dealing with an increase in COVID-19 cases should be developed.

► APRIL 29, 2020: Walton County beaches to open without time restrictions, sunbathing not allowed

Walton County Commission Chairman Bill Chapman subsequently suggested that commissioners bring any ideas for contingency planning to Tuesday’s meeting. It was not until the end of Tuesday’s meeting, some time after commissioners had voted to open the beaches and parks, that contingency planning entered their discussion.

As the meeting was winding down, Commissioner Melanie Nipper asked Jeff Goldberg, director of the county’s Emergency Management agency, “What’s a logical trigger (for implementing a contingency plan)?”

“At some point,” Nipper continued, “we need to (consider) ’If this happens, we need to do this’ ... so the sheriff knows how to move forward if we do have a large outbreak.”

► APRIL 28, 2020: Okaloosa beaches, pier to fully open

One benchmark that might be considered, Nipper suggested, is how quickly beds and ventilators are being used for COVID-19 patients at any given time at the county’s two hospitals, Healthmark Regional Medical Center in DeFuniak Springs and Ascension Sacred Heart on the Emerald Coast in Miramar Beach.

“We do expect the number of cases to rise as we do more widespread testing,” Goldberg told Nipper, adding that his agency is “starting to get into some specifics ... as far as triggers and number of people and resources and things like that.”

“If we start seeing that our resources are starting to get stretched or could potentially get stretched, based on modeling,” Goldberg said, “we’ll definitely come back to the commission and ... start talking about some mitigation steps that we can put into place.”

► APRIL 29, 2020: Destin approves opening all beaches from dawn until dusk

Contingency planning got little additional discussion Tuesday, other than Commissioner Tony Anderson saying that while he believes Goldberg is “on top of it ... we need to have that plan in place as quickly as possible.”

Anderson went on to tell Goldberg to “keep us advised on what the plan is, how it’s progressing. ...”

As a final comment Tuesday, Commissioner Danny Glidewell cautioned against any premature action in implementing a contingency plan for COVID-19.

“The trigger is not one or two cases,” Glidewell said.

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