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NORRISTOWN — Montgomery County commissioners on Thursday granted an extension for a COVID-19 emergency disaster declaration for the seventh consecutive time.

“I don’t believe I need to remind anybody here, but back on March 8, 2020, the county declared an emergency declaration in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Solicitor Josh Stein. “We have renewed that multiple times since then.”

The declaration was re-established in April, June, August, October, and December of 2020 ,and February 2021.

Officials cited “widespread outbreak of coronavirus that overwhelmed first responders, health care providers and businesses within Montgomery County.”

The order permitted the county’s Office of Public Health and the Department of Public Safety the authority to conduct response efforts related to the ongoing public health crisis.

Stein said the declaration allows the county to “cut through a certain amount of red tape” when seeking reimbursement from the state and federal governments as well as organizing vaccination clinics.

“It is important that we renew these declarations, as not only does it allow us to get reimbursements, it also allows us to stand up our vaccine clinics in record time, allowing us to undertake projects that would have taken a lot longer without this declaration,” Stein said.

“Solicitor Stein ... if you could just remind everyone that this declaration has nothing to do with business closures or schools opening or any kind of Covid restrictions whatsoever,” said Commissioners’ Vice Chairman Ken Lawrence Jr. “Is that correct?”

“That is absolutely correct,” Stein replied.

The matter passed in a 2-1 vote with Commissioner Joe Gale, the lone Republican on the board, dissenting.

The latest disaster declaration retroactively took effect on April 8 and will remain valid for 60 days, tentatively set for early June, according to the order.

Commissioners’ Chairwoman Val Arkoosh took a moment in her opening comments to address issues surrounding the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine.

“Taking a pause to evaluate a potential side effect is exactly how a data driven scientific process should work and I hope Pennsylvanians will be reassured by this step,” she said. “We have to balance speed and safety as we try to get more shots into arms, and this pause gives me confidence that science and safety are guiding that process.”

Arkoosh added that county officials have surveyed the existing supply of Pfizer first-dose shots and will continue with those through April 20.

In other business, the county legislators authorized a series of contract awards and amendments related to the COVID-19 pandemic that totaled more than $925,000.

A $194,545.75 agreement with CDW Government, of Chicago, covered “computer equipment and accessories” at county vaccination clinics. Funds were made available through a contract from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Cooperative Purchasing Program.

A $60,385.50 one-year agreement with Zoom Video Communications Inc., of San Jose, California, afforded “380 Zoom enterprise licenses” and “five room connector subscriptions,” according to the contract.

A $31,324 agreement with Safeware Inc., of Lanham, Maryland, covered “disinfectant spray and sharps containers” at area vaccination sites. According to the contract, an Omnia Partners/U.S. Communities cooperative contract provided funding for the supplies.

A $30,803.08 agreement with Uline Inc., of Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin allotted several items, including crowd control posts, shelving, wall clocks, and trash cans, which were deemed necessary to set up vaccination clinics.

Additionally, several existing contracts were updated during Thursday’s meeting.

Johnson Controls-York Service, of Horsham, requested another $61,395 for “additional corrective work to make units fully operational.” The initial contract provided a “chiller and cooling tower maintenance and repairs at the King of Prussia vaccination site.”

The revised contract now stands at $112,930.

Additionally, an agreement between the county’s Department of Health and Human Services and several companies allowed for contact tracing services related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A renewal was approved on Nov. 19, 2020, and several firms now require “increased services required to perform contact tracing.”

The contracts apply to the following firms:

  • ACLAMO, of Norristown had an initial renewal award of $529,600. The most recent amendment was for $199,184. The total contract now stands at $728,784.
  • Family Services of Montgomery County, of Eagleville, had an initial renewal award of $581,586. The organization requested another $147,257, which brings the total contract value to $728,843.
  • VNA Community Services, of Abington, had an initial renewal award of $522,301. The organization requested $87,731 more, which brings the total contract value to $610,032.

As cases of COVID-19 continue to climb, Arkoosh noted the county’s 14-day positivity rate had increased to 8.12 percent as compared to the previous 7.13 percent.

“Not surprisingly, as our case numbers go up, so do our hospitalizations,” she said.

Specifically, there were 213 COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Montgomery County as of Wednesday.

According to the county’s COVID-19 resources webpage, there were 191 cases reported Thursday afternoon. There’ve been 54,399 COVID-19 cases and 1,275 deaths recorded since March 7, 2020.

“So I know that everyone is so tired of this, but we must continue to ask you to wear a mask, and maintain social distancing, and be very careful when you’re around people who are not from your home,” Arkoosh said.

@rachelravina on Twitter

Rachel Ravina is a journalist covering news and lifestyle features in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. She grew up in Blue Bell and graduated from Penn State. She's also a news enthusiast who is passionate about covering topics people want to read.

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