Jamestown takes precautions for the coronavirus pandemic

Jamestown City Administrator Sarah Hellekson and Stutsman County Emergency Manager Jerry Bergquist discuss community preparedness.

City hall
Warning signs and COVID-19 brochures share space on the information desk at Jamestown City Hall. Keith Norman / The Sun

Editor's note: This story is part of the 2021 "Essential to Jamestown" special edition of The Jamestown Sun. The annual Progress Edition features stories on essential workers, agencies and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

A lot of safety precautions were implemented in a short period at the start of the pandemic, according to Sarah Hellekson, Jamestown city administrator.

"One of the things we asked of staff was to avoid being in a vehicle with another worker unless they were from the same household," she said. "We had to eliminate that because of the public impression when they saw two people in a vehicle was that we were disregarding the rules."

Other precautions included changes at the city's solid waste baler where early concerns that the coronavirus could live on surfaces prompted sanitation efforts.

"We also closed city buildings to the public," she said. "We did allow people in when they had business with city officials but kept anyone else out of the buildings."


While all those decisions were made by city officials, those people often got information through what was termed the Emergency Operations Center, according to Jerry Bergquist, Stutsman County emergency manager and 911 coordinator.

"It wasn't the same group as we pulled together during past floods," he said. "We had different skills involved but it was the same principle. Keep everybody communicating and up-to-date."

The Emergency Operations Center was not a physical place but a committee of health care officials and community leaders that met virtually every day at the beginning of the pandemic. The committee now meets weekly which may be reduced in the future.

Bergquist said the EOC had no authority to order changes by local governments but was put in place so everyone could hear the same information at the same time and in the same manner.

"We were probably being overly cautious early on," he said. "We wanted to keep the community safe and make sure the community didn't spread it (the coronavirus) back to us (first responders and public employees)."

One of the more challenging precautions for the Jamestown City Council was virtual meetings.

"It was the most cumbersome," Hellekson said. "Holding virtual meetings is still a challenge."

Jamestown City Council and committee meetings are being held using Microsoft Teams, although interfacing that software with the 1980s-era sound system at City Hall has not always worked effectively. The city also allows a limited number of people in the City Council Chambers while maintaining social distancing.


"At least most people can hear better now," Hellekson said. "We still have some access issues but we are trying to address that. We don't have closed captioning, for example."

Hellekson said the challenges of modern technology are worth overcoming.

"Accessible meetings are a goal," she said. "We hope that is a long-term change."

Other challenges for local government officials include tracking the cost of the pandemic. Some expenses have been covered by the federal CARES Act and others by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We wrote COVID-19 on the invoices to track the bills," Hellekson said. "We had to be able to track costs we wouldn't normally have been able to track."

Even a year later, there are still things to learn about the coronavirus and how to keep the community safe, Bergquist said.

"I think there is a general awareness in the community," Hellekson said. "Not necessarily of the changes to city government but to the virus in general."

Officials continue to monitor the number of cases of COVID-19 in the community. Bergquist said keeping the positivity rate, the percentage of positive tests based on the total number of tests performed, is one way officials will determine how the community is faring as the number of people who have been vaccinated increases.


If the positive trends continue, City Hall may be reopened after Easter, Hellekson said.

"What worries me going into the future is the community's mental health," she said.

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