PUTNAM COUNTY — Complying with guidelines issued by the Ohio Department of Health, the county board of commissioners issued a release on Tuesday outlining actions deemed necessary to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

“The Putnam County Courthouse and all county offices will be going to Level Two emergency limiting public traffic to ESSENTIAL county business for two weeks, starting November 4 through November 18 matching the timing and guidelines from the Ohio health director,” the release states. “No one will be allowed in the building without an appointment with the correct department and you will be asked at the security station if you have made the appropriate appointment. To determine if your business is essential, please call the courthouse at 419-523-8700, and the appropriate department extension, or check www.putnamcountyohio.gov for information relative to a Putnam County business issue. All department heads and elected officials may reduce staffing levels to cover essential services while observing social distancing.”

While similar to actions taken in March, when the ODH and then Health Director Amy Acton issued directives severely curtailing business both public and private — including civil and criminal proceedings — this latest effort, at present, has little bearing on how the courts operate.

At the end of last March, an emergency tolling procedure implemented by the Ohio Supreme Court brought the courts to a virtual stand still, leaving defendants facing charges, but still unsentenced, in limbo. That statute came to an end on July 31, and no such statute is currently in place.

“None of that exists now, so speedy trial rights continue; it isn’t going to change drastically what we do up here,” Putnam County Municipal Court Judge Chad Niese said on Tuesday. “As needed, we’re going to continue to have trials. Luckily, in the next three weeks, I don’t have any jury trials scheduled, so I’m not going to have to cross that bridge. At least not immediately.”

Still, the continuing surge of cases here, in the state, and across the nation create the same same problems for the court as they do in any work environment: concerns about staffing; not only of the court’s employed support staff, but of a critical component in this nation’s judicial system.

“The biggest problem is getting people in here to serve on juries,” Judge Niese said. “That’s my concern. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

As part of the court’s efforts to minimize exposure to the virus, social distancing is key. In Judge Niese’s comparatively small courtroom, the backs of visitors’ benches are tagged with large numerals indicating not only where to sit in order to maintain distance, but courtroom capacity, as well. And as much as possible, as in other areas of society, the business of the court is handled at a remove.

“We’ve been trying to limit in-court stuff now, with telephone/teleconference appearances where possible,” Judge Niese said. “We’re trying to limit the traffic that’s coming in, but the things that are required we’re still doing. We’re not putting a hold on anything.”

This latest action at the courthouse comes on the heels of the Putnam County Health Department’s decision to likewise limit interactions while maintaining essential services, Ottawa-Glandorf Schools decision to join the Columbus Grove School District in adopting a hybrid educational model, and rapidly accelerating numbers of county residents testing positive for the virus. Last Wednesday, the PCHD reported a total of 1,189 positive or presumed positive cases in the county. On Tuesday, the ODH reported 1,443 cases — an increase of 254 cases in six days. Of that number, 883 are presumed recovered, 113 have been or are hospitalized, and 30 deaths are recorded with COVID-19 listed as a contributing factor.