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Jackson County extends state of emergency

Jackson County commissioners unanimously extended to July 6 the county’s state of emergency declaration due to COVID-19, but not without a debate.

Commissioners Rick Dyer and Bob Strosser said Wednesday that extending the local emergency declaration gives the county flexibility to respond.

Dyer said the extension is the most efficient, effective and responsible way for the county to handle all the impacts from COVID-19, including the economic consequences of state restrictions on businesses.

But Commissioner Colleen Roberts questioned whether the county is truly facing an emergency.

She said the only real emergency faced in the county is economic harm from government restrictions, not the county’s number of COVID-19 cases.

Jackson County reported five new cases Wednesday, bringing the total to 64, with one presumptive case. The county has had no deaths.

Oregon reported 71 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the state’s total to 4,038.

Roberts said the local emergency declaration makes it look like commissioners are going along with Gov. Kate Brown’s statewide emergency declaration and executive orders that place restrictions on businesses, gatherings and activities.

Dyer said the county’s emergency declaration is in no way an endorsement of the governor’s actions, which he said are damaging many local businesses.

“The governor’s restrictions actually create part of our state of emergency,” he said, pointing to the economic fallout the county is grappling with alongside its public health response to the virus.

A group of churches and others have challenged the governor’s restrictions in court, although the restrictions remain in effect while the case is pending.

The lawsuit has turned emergency declarations into political hot potatoes.

“None of the restrictions on people or businesses whatsoever are derived from Jackson County’s state of emergency,” said County Administrator Danny Jordan.

He said the county emergency declaration allows the county government to quickly buy goods and services, shift workers to other duties, change its personal leave policies and enter into mutual aid agreements with cities and surrounding counties.

Jordan said having an emergency declaration in place boosts Jackson County’s chances of getting reimbursed for its COVID-19-related expenses through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed by Congress.

Those costs already exceed $1.5 million, he said.

“I can’t imagine the federal government will allow us to send them a bill without saying we had a declared state of emergency,” Jordan said.

Even if the federal government loosens the criteria for receiving emergency aid, the state of Oregon could still add restrictions and regulations for federal money passing through the state, including that counties had to have been in a state of emergency for their COVID-19 expenses to qualify, Jordan said.

He said it would be financially irresponsible for the county not to position itself to recover as many of its costs as possible.

Jordan said the flexibility granted by the local emergency declaration will help Jackson County comply with the state’s phase one requirements for reopening, and eventually move on to phase two. Phase one for most counties, including Jackson County, started May 15.

With its emergency declaration in place, the county has been able to quickly get lodging for people who need to go into quarantine but can’t safely self-isolate at home.

Among other actions during the emergency, the county has shifted some employees to work at the Emergency Operations Center set up at The Expo.

Work done by those staff members includes gathering and distributing stockpiles of face masks, medical gowns, gloves and sanitizer, plus helping to write the county’s successful application to the state to enter phase one of reopening.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Jackson County has extended its COVID-19 state of emergency through July 6.