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COVID-19 disaster declaration in county

Warren County remains under a countywide emergency declaration due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Warren County Commissioners made the decision to follow the state and federal governments in issuing the disaster declaration back in mid-March.

But — at the commissioner’s urging — Warren County has gone “Green” and the relative case count remains low.

That begs the question — are we actually facing an emergency and do we need the declaration, the first known use of a countywide disaster declaration?

“There’s not a significant reason to end it or continue it,” Commissioner Ben Kafferlin said on Monday.

He said he leaned toward keeping it in the event that more resources are needed and to have additional flexibility, though he said it is “not a hill I want to live or die on.”

When the decision was made, the commissioners said that the declaration “is largely being done for administrative reasons, to vest more authority in our Director of Public Safety to draw down state and federal resources and staff the Emergency Operations Center. It also allows us to acquire equipment and personnel quickly, without going through bidding processes, as it relates to COVID-19.”

Kafferlin said the county hasn’t actually used the authorities under the declaration in a couple months and “don’t anticipate needing to.”

“I think we’re still in a state where we need to be able to respond quickly,” Commissioner Jeff Eggleston added.

We’ve announced everything we’ve done,” Kafferlin added, detailing the actions the county has taken under the declaration — purchases including a “relatively big purchase” of masks, authorizing the burn ban, hiring an infectious control nurse, hiring election staffers needed to handle the mail-in ballot influx the pandemic likely caused as well as making some requests from the resource requests from the state.

Solicitor Nathaniel Schmidt also highlighted the correspondence the commissioners have sent to the governor’s office under the declaration.

He contrasted the county’s declaration with the state’s, indicating that there is no automatic expiration of the county’s declaration as there is at the state level.

“(It) will stay in effect until a decision is made by the commissioners to end it,” Schmidt said.

He said in support of keeping the declaration that the county “needs to be responsive to orders the governor sends down” and said that it “seems to me the situation is still here as much as it was in March.”

He said the declaration could be a “stand in” until a proposed regional department of health could be established.

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