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Howard board updated on response to COVID-19

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

HOWARD – Some precautions put in place in response to COVID-19 will likely remain after the pandemic is over, Howard Director of Public Safety Ed Janke told the village board Monday, April 13.

The board conducted a remote meeting for the second consecutive time, while Janke made his remarks from the state emergency operations center in Madison.

Janke said firefighters and police officers continue to address safety around the village hall with standards having been upgraded as a response to the pandemic.

“We separated out our shifts a little bit and are working to make sure that from a hygiene standpoint the building is clean,” he said. “They’re going around the building several days and cleaning the village hall and public safety building.”

Though he hopes some of the social distancing measures will be lifted in the next two weeks, Janke said he doesn’t expect the village will be “back to normal.”

“A lot of the practices that we have now put in place will help us stay safe from the second wave (of the virus), because once the restrictions are lifted, it is likely that we will face some more cases (of COVID-19),” he said. “We probably will never do some of the same social interaction that we did previously. I think we hopefully will have learned from that, and then we’ll move forward.”

Janke said staff members are being monitored to see if they have symptoms of the virus.

“Hopefully we do get through this without any of our staff being hit by that, because a lot of agencies are experiencing isolation issues for their staff,” he said. “Hopefully we get through this without any of our staff or any village employees becoming COVID positive, and I think it’s partially because of all the hazard and risk measures that we took around throughout the entire organization for all our village staff to make sure that they’re safe.”

Trustee Chris Nielsen thanked Janke for the village’s response in dealing with the pandemic.

“I’m locked up in my house here for only about a week, but just all the things I’ve heard and what has been handled and how the village as a whole has handled it… is just the best as I could have imagined,” Nielsen said.

Village Administrator Paul Evert discussed how the spring general election was conducted in Howard amid concerns about the pandemic.

“We had a lot of help from departments helping everybody out to make sure we could have our voters vote in as clean and safe environment as possible,” Evert said. “Certainly, prior to that we encouraged a lot of people to vote absentee, and they took that to heart.”

Compared to the 2016 presidential primary when the village processed 929 absentee ballots, he said this year Howard received around 4,700 absentee ballot requests.

Evert said more than 1,100 village voters showed up last week on Election Day, “which went very smooth.”

“Staffing levels for Election Day were very similar to four years ago, but due to the large number of absentee ballots issued, we were over-staffed for the election,” he said. “I would estimate we could have saved about $1,600 if we had better data to decrease the number of poll workers on Election Day.”

Chris Haltom, director of administrative services, said he spent more time on this election in response to absentee ballots.

“I spent about 100 hours working on the election,” Haltom said. “I probably don’t spend 20-25 hours on a typical election. We have most of the staff in the front office do most of the work with the elections, and then we also bring in some of the poll workers to work. We did have three poll workers ready for in-person absentee voting. We didn’t have a ton of the ballots done that way. I think it ended up (having) 500 or 600 people voted (with) an in-person absentee ballot.”

Haltom said he would like the state to allow municipalities to have the option of what he calls “true early voting,” in which voters who cast ballots before Election Day could come in and insert their ballots into a machine, instead of clerks having to take the time processing absentee envelopes.

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