Albemarle County government buildings will not reopen until at least March 15.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the county’s office buildings have been largely closed to the public, and most employees have been working from home.
County Executive Jeff Richardson said the closures will continue until mid-March at the earliest, which will mark nearly a year since the county closed its buildings to the public, with limited exceptions.
“With all of the uncertainty that our employees have had to work through this year, being able to put a flag in the ground that we’re going to continue with our current customer service model until March 15 helps our employees to be able to have some level of certainty of what the plan is,” he said.
Originally, county officials were considering reopening on Jan. 19, but decided against that after looking at local, regional and national COVID-19 metrics, which have shown an increase in cases.
Richardson said local public health experts cautioned the county that winter is a high-risk timeframe, with cold weather keeping people inside more, not to mention it’s also cold and flu season.
“Some people have time off, and the concern is that there’ll be a replication of some of the community spread that occurred during Thanksgiving, and that could be a little bit of a multiplier effect going into the next holiday period,” he said in December.
Customer service also played into the decision.
Albemarle said it had very few community members — only 50 people — respond to a customer service feedback survey that was sent out via the county’s email newsletter system and posted on doors at the county office buildings.
“We had hundreds of people responding to each and everything around the [Confederate] statue or around the climate action work, so 50 is a very low number — it was much lower than I anticipated,” county spokeswoman Emily Kilroy said.
Though small in number, the responses to the survey on building closures were “overwhelmingly positive,” she said.
“… Folks feel like they know how to reach us by phone, through the website, over email; they don’t feel like there’s been a decrease in services associated with the building closures,” Kilroy said. “We just weren’t sure where they were feeling dissatisfied without a formal mechanism to tell us.”
Some exceptions have been made. The Community Development Department — which has been encouraging online submission of project applications — is open three days a week. Social services and housing have a drop box in the lobby, and police department personnel are meeting with community members at times.
The county has moved all of its meetings online and has given people online and contactless options for paying taxes.
Richardson said the county diverted about 92% of its walk-in traffic during the main June and December tax payment periods and handled it without community members coming in the door.
“We were able to handle them in the outside entrance area, with the tents in an open environment that’s a little more spacious and outside,” he said.
Richardson said the plan is to consider in early February whether March 15 is an appropriate reopening date.