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Most Newton County government offices reopening
Construction to keep animal shelter closed to public into July
0614 CovNews County reopening
Unlike most other county facilities, the county animal shelter will remain closed to the public into July because of ongoing construction, officials said. -- Special to The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. —  Newton County government offices were set to reopen to the public Monday, June 15, under guidelines set by the governor and Centers for Disease Control, county officials announced.

However, the county animal shelter will remain closed into July due to ongoing construction.

Those entering county administration buildings will be required to utilize hand washing and sanitizing stations and social distancing to ensure the safety of the public and staff, said county spokesman Bryan Fazio.

He said social distancing of at least six feet "must be observed" Monday and will limit the number of people allowed inside the Newton County Administration Building and Historic Courthouse in Downtown Covington. 

"Due to expected lines only those conducting business will be allowed inside the building. All others, including family members should remain home," Fazio said.

Beginning Tuesday, June 16, everyone entering Newton County government buildings will be recommended to social distance, he said.

"Anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19, including fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea shall not enter government buildings,” Fazio said.

He said those visiting offices which tend to have comparatively more foot traffic — tax and tag office, assessor’s office and elections office — will enter through the north side of the Administration Building, closest to the public defender’s office. 

"Visitors conducting all other business, including human resources and development services, should enter through the south side, closest to Usher Street," Fazio said. "Separate entrances will provide those trying to renew or apply for a tag and pay taxes ample room to distance near the Rotary Park on the north side."

However, the county animal shelter will not be reopening because of ongoing construction, Fazio said.

Officials also will recommend everyone entering Newton County government buildings to wear a mask. If a visitor does not have one, one will be provided upon entry, he said.

County Manager Lloyd Kerr said, “We take our role in public safety very seriously."

“The measures we are taking to reopen are in keeping with that," Kerr said. 

"Yes, the way we do things will change. However focusing on the safety of our residents will always be at the forefront of what we do,” he said.

Fazio said county government employees also will be required to wear masks and have their temperature taken as they report for work each day. Many have been working from home since mid-March, he said.

Employees will be required to maintain six-foot distance in such common areas as break rooms. They will be stationed behind sneeze-guards in customer-facing departments, Fazio said.

A new window in the Development Services Department on the second floor of the Administration Building will allow touchless customer service, he said.

At the Historic Courthouse, a limited number of people will be allowed inside at one time to purchase Convenience Center Vehicle Hang Tags, officials said. 

Two stations will be positioned inside the courthouse for purchases and another set up outside the building for residents to receive and begin filling out paperwork, they said.

“We have worked hard to prepare for the day when we can welcome the public into our buildings again,” Kerr said. “Our staff has done a great job working remotely for the last three months and we are all eager to greet the public in person once more.”

The county also announced the Newton County Animal Shelter will remain closed to the public into July

The Animal Shelter is currently being renovated and expanded and will open in its new form later this year, Fazio said.

"The decision was made to perform construction on the new addition and existing building simultaneously. This decision of keeping the shelter closed a few more weeks will expedite the construction period and save taxpayer money," he said.

He said Newton County Animal Services will adhere to National Animal Care and Control Association guidelines and decrease intake of animals by only responding to emergency calls such as aggressive dogs, livestock in the road or sick and injured animals.

Normal operations for dogs will resume in July but operations for cats will still be limited due to the area for them being housed in the current shelter space -- which will not be completed until mid-September.

“The decision to expedite the renovations was not taken lightly,” said Cindy Wiemann, Newton County Animal Services Director. “This is the best use of both taxpayer funds and staff time with limited inconvenience to the residents of Newton County. Just in limiting the use of a temporary trailer for staff alone, we are saving several thousand dollars of taxpayer funds.”

Groundbreaking for the new shelter took place Jan. 29. The $1.2 million project is being funded by the 2017 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax . It will create additional space for cats, small dogs, puppies and larger animals; more quarantine space for animals; and renovated offices for staff.

“We thank you for your patience,” Wiemann said. “We are looking forward to seeing everyone at our grand opening this fall.”