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Byrn: Jackson County failed to deliver on screenings for COVID-19

The lack of promised COVID-19 screenings at Jackson County courthouses has led Presiding Judge David M. Byrn to urge county officials to provide those screenings, citing pledges they made prior to reopening the courthouses.

In a May 26 letter to County Executive Frank White, Byrn outlined the discussions that took place between court and county officials before the court moved into Phase One of reopening, which allows for more in-person proceedings.

In preparing for reopening May 18, Byrn requested that everyone entering courthouses — both employees and members of the public — have their temperatures checked, he said in his letter.

The county took the conversation one step further, he added. Noting the availability of COVID-19-related funding, county officials agreed to hire medical professionals to take temperatures and pose standard screening questions to people entering the courthouses, he said.

“Relying on that promise, I repeated the county’s promise to court employees [advising them that they would be screened], attorneys and other members of the public,” Byrn said. “Unfortunately, county administration has not fulfilled that promise.”

When Byrn arrived at the courthouse on May 18, no screeners were in place, he said. In response to his questions about their absence, Byrn said, the county has offered different responses — that it does not have enough thermometers, and it has not secured a contract with medical professionals.

Byrn said county officials then told him that the screenings would begin on May 26. But late in the day on May 22, the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, he learned that no medical professionals were available to provide screenings during the next week, he said. The county has offered no indication of when screenings will begin, he said.

In his letter, Byrn said he is skeptical of the county’s assertion that it could not find health workers to do the work. He urged the county to uphold its promises.

“Protecting the health and safety of employees as well as our fellow citizens is a fundamental and primary responsibility of Jackson County government,” he said. “It is also simply the right thing to do —and it is what Jackson County government agreed to do. This failure is completely inexcusable.”

Marshanna Smith, spokeswoman for the county, said in a statement that protecting the health and wellbeing of the public and staff is the county’s top priority.

“The County just recently acquired thermometers and is in the process of working to secure a contract with a provider to administer the temperature checks,” she said.

Coronavirus crisis

This item is part of Missouri Lawyers Media's free coverage of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the legal community.

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