Montgomery and Greene counties have declared a state of emergency over the new coronavirus outbreak, joining a growing group of jurisdictions to take the action in the hopes of accessing state and federal funds as well as to streamline the purchasing process.
Montgomery County commissioners also decided to revise and update the county’s leave policies to give workers additional time off with the goal of helping slow the spread of COVID-19.
But in Warren County, its commission voted 2-1 against an emergency declaration.
Montgomery County needs to take precautions to protect its employees and the citizens it serves during this crisis to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, said Commission President Judy Dodge.
“Taking this step is necessary and will allow us to obtain resources and support we need to address this pandemic from both the state and federal government,” Dodge said.
Montgomery and Greene counties passed emergency declarations on Tuesday, following in the footsteps of the state of Ohio and other jurisdictions including the city of Dayton.
Montgomery County’s resolution formalizes the county’s emergency status and the decision to exercise emergency authority provides more flexibility related to staffing and procurement procedures, Dodge said.
Montgomery County began transitioning to emergency operations on Monday to focus resources on “mission critical” services, and the county’s leadership team has reduced staffing levels in non-essential areas, Dodge said.
Officials say the county is taking significant steps to try to deliver essential government services while also following recommended social distancing practices.
“As a result, some normal day-to-day functions and services will not be available because these are not normal times,” Dodge said.
Montgomery County has implemented a flexible leave policy for all of its thousands of employees that included adding two weeks, or 80 hours, of special vacation time so non-essential workers can stay home during this risky period, said Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman.
The county will be limiting and freezing non-essential programs and services, stopping all non-essential spending and enacting a hiring freeze in an effort to protect the public and public employees, Liberman said.
Essential personnel will report to work or will work remotely when possible, Lieberman said, and essential services like food stamp and unemployment benefits will still be available, though citizens are encouraged to apply for benefits online to limit physical contact at the Jobs Center.
The county encourages citizens when possible to call and send emails to access needed services and utilize online platforms and payment drop boxes.
The Greene County Commission also passed a resolution Tuesday morning declaring an emergency in the county.
“It allows us to secure state and federal reimbursement funds if/ when they become available,” read a statement from the Greene County commissioners. “It suspends the requirement for competitive bidding and allows us to ensure faster procurement of needed supplies and services. … We continue to hope for the best outcome while planning for the worst case scenarios.”
Melissa Howell, Greene County health commissioner, said the county has responded to small and large health concerns including the opiate crisis, west Nile virus, Ebola and other devastating events like tornadoes. Howell said the county knows how to work well together.
“No one is immune,” Howell said. “For individuals with no symptoms, there would be no test needed. For individuals with mild cold-like symptoms no test would be needed. Individuals with severe illness cough, shortness of breath and fever may be tested.”
Howell said county preparations began when the first reports of the virus came from China.
Warren County commissioners Dave Young and Tom Grossmann voted no, while insisting they were ready to provide more funding to fire and emergency management workers needing equipment when dealing with potential cases.
Grossmann and Young suggested declaring the emergency would cause residents to panic. They noted federal and state states of emergency had already been declared.
Bruce McGary, the county prosecutor advising them, indicated he had found no legal basis for the need for the county declaration.
Commissioner Shannon Jones said the vote on a resolution sought by local emergency management and health officials was advisable and unlikely to create additional panic in the county.
During a 90-minute work session, the commissioners heard appeals from a handful of emergency management officials to declare the emergency to support a change in standard of care to eliminate the transport of residents to be tested for COVID-19 with no other medical problem.
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The officials also said the emergency declaration would also put the county emergency response agencies in line to get more masks and other equipment needed to respond to calls.
“No one is saying this isn’t serious,” Young said. “When we declare a state of emergency, that means something.”
Young and Grossmann emphasized they want to support needed changes, once the legal support has been provided.
During the meeting, Franklin Fire Chief Jonathan Westendorf said Atrium Medical Center in Warren County dealt with a a COVID-19 case last week.
“Atrium Medical Center and other Premier Health hospitals currently have no admitted patients with confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Late last week, a person came to Atrium Medical Center to be tested for COVID-19. This person returned home and went into self-quarantine. We have learned that this person did test positive for the virus. The patient is recovering at home. Staff took appropriate precautions as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention when testing this person, and therefore CDC guidelines do not recommend that the staff be isolated or quarantined,” according to a statement issued by Jennifer Burcham, site manager, PR and Community Relations, at Atrium.
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