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County extends COVID-19 state of emergency

Mail Tribune/file photo Jackson County extended a local state of emergency regarding COVID-19 that allows it to ask for outside help from the state and federal governments, such as extra staff to help overloaded hospitals.
Jackson County declaration doesn’t include any mandates

Jackson County commissioners Rick Dyer and Dave Dotterrer voted Tuesday to continue a local state of emergency that allows the county to get state and federal help to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, while Commissioner Colleen Roberts voted against the move.

The outside help ranges from free COVID-19 vaccinations for the public to extra workers for overloaded local hospitals.

Jackson County’s local state of emergency has nothing to do with Gov. Kate Brown’s state of emergency covering Oregon or her mandates regarding COVID-19, such as a requirement that people wear masks in indoor public settings.

The county emergency declaration puts no limits on people or businesses.

But the county commissioners were inundated with emails from people opposed to Jackson County continuing in a state of emergency due to COVID-19.

“I understand the confusion. I understand the alarm,” Dyer said. “This is in no way furthering what’s coming down from Salem.”

Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan said the local state of emergency allows the county to get reimbursed from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its costs dealing with the pandemic.

Without FEMA covering the costs, Jackson County taxpayers would be left paying the bills, he said.

“There are no mandates associated with this,” Jordan said of the county state of emergency.

The declaration also gives the county greater flexibility to respond during the pandemic. For example, county workers can be asked to take on tasks that aren’t part of their normal job descriptions. The county can get more ventilators and health care workers sent to the Rogue Valley, Jordan said.

He said having a local state of emergency literally saves people’s lives.

In voting against the continuation of the local state of emergency, Roberts said the county has been in a state of emergency regarding COVID-19 for almost two years. She said the vast majority of people survive COVID-19 and a state of emergency is not warranted.

“I think it’s a small step in the right direction toward normal,” Roberts said about resisting the continuation of a local state of emergency.

Roberts said the public could pay for their own COVID-19 vaccinations if they want them, rather than getting shots for free.

Dyer said getting rid of the local state of emergency wouldn’t cause a lifting of state mandates that are impacting people.

Put simply, Jordan said declaring a local state of emergency means something has happened that the county government can’t handle alone.

Jackson County commissioners have declared local emergencies to get state and federal help after the Almeda and South Obenchain fires destroyed thousands of homes and hundreds of businesses in 2020, when drought struck the region this summer, and when the proliferation of illegal marijuana grows this year overwhelmed the ability of local law enforcement agencies to keep up.

Help from the state and federal governments has included fire debris cleanup and housing for fire survivors, plus extra money and staff to deal with impacts from illegal marijuana.

The county’s local state of emergency regarding COVID-19 will end March 31, 2022, unless it’s rescinded earlier or extended.

On Dec. 21, Oregon’s governor extended the statewide COVID-19 state of emergency until June 30, 2022, unless it’s rescinded earlier or extended.

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