For the cities of Sherman and Denison, Monday represented a return to normal as the as employees returned to work and the cities started the gradual process of reopening following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that state-wide calls to stay at home, and the closure of many businesses would expire and retail and restaurants could reopen with limited capacity. In the same announcement, Abbott said some public amenities, including libraries and museums, could open with similar restrictions.
For the city of Denison, Monday represented a return to business as city hall opened for the first time since March 18. While city leaders said Denison was ready to return to business, precautions were put in place.
“We are taking a lot of precautions to protect our employees and the visiting public,” City Manager Jud Rex said. “Those that come in expect to see sneeze guards, signage, hand sanitizing stations all throughout city hall.”
While traffic in city hall was low Monday, Rex said there were several residents who came early to pay their utility bills. For those who are reluctant to pay in person, the city in continuing its online and dropbox bill payments that were heavily used during the shutdown.
Along with City Hall, the public library also opened its doors this week, albeit on an appointment basis. Rex said the city is currently allowing visitors to make appointments to visit the library in an effort to keep traffic and congestion low.
“Not all the spots have been filled up,” he said. “I think we are trying to keep it at 25 percent at capacity.”
The highest demand for library services has been for online and computer access, but Rex said the city is heavily limiting access to just one hour at a time, and only five users per hour.
“We have more workstations, but we are limiting it at five people to spread that out,” he said.
Rex said it could still be some time before the city is able to reopen some of its recreational facilities, including playgrounds and sports courts.
While business returned to normal to some degree, some aspects of city government are still being done remotely, Rex said.
The city scheduled its city council meeting Monday to be held remotely, as it has done for over a month, with no physical gathering.
“The governor’s orders and directions still prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people, so our plans are to continue to meet electronically until that particular order changes.”
Still, the return to business was a positive one for many workers, Rex said. Seeing coworkers for the first time in over a month has been positive for many city employees, he said.
“I think there is that feeling mixed along with one of apprehension just about returning while there is a pandemic,” Rex said. “I think there has been a morale boost from being around coworkers again and seeing residents come and visit again. It is good to be around people. Humans are meant to be social animals and it’s been tough to be away from people.”
While Denison shuttered city hall during the pandemic, Sherman never took the steps to close city hall. Instead, the city took steps to limit the interaction between staff and the public, and many employees began working from home.
However, employees began to return to work on site Monday, officials said.
““For instance, city clerk’s office, planning and zoning office both had screening devices that would keep staff and the public separate,” Sherman Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch said. “Also, anyone who has needed to work from home has been granted that.”
Unlike Denison, Sherman elected to have an in person council meeting Monday. Albeit, any non-necessary staff was asked to not attend to allow space in the city council chambers.
“We believe we can safely and effectively hold the meeting in the council chambers with spacing requirements for those who choose to attend,” Strauch said.
However, the city is expected to hold its next council meeting on May 18 at the Kidd-Key Auditorium due to concerns about heavy attendance.
During the next meeting, an appeal to a contentious Planning & Zoning Commission decision regarding a 400-unit manufactured home development is expected to be brought before the council. When the item was brought before the commission earlier this year, dozens of people attended the meeting.
For the city, the next step in reopening will likely be the public library, which closed during the pandemic due to concerns about high attendance and an inability to separate people safely.
“It is just making sure that staff are comfortable working in the environment so that we could open up,” Strauch said.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.