NORRISTOWN — An emergency disaster declaration was extended for the fourth consecutive time during a Montgomery County Board of Commissioners meeting as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
The order was first established on March 8, according to the proclamation. Officials cited “widespread outbreak of coronavirus that overwhelmed first responders, healthcare providers and businesses within Montgomery County.”
The legislation instructs the county’s Office of Public Health and the Department of Public Safety “to coordinate the activities of the emergency response; to take all appropriate action needed to alleviate the effects of this disaster; to aid in the restoration of essential public services; and to take any other emergency response action deemed necessary to respond to this disaster emergency.”
According to county Solicitor Josh Stein, the order would coincide with the state’s disaster declaration.
“Obviously the pandemic is still with us and this declaration does [bring] a certain flexibility and privileges …,” he said. “That will also align nicely with the commonwealth’s most recent disaster proclamation which runs through Nov. 30, so at that point we will know whether the state is continuing the statewide proclamation, and we may choose to follow suit at that point as well.”
While the extension was narrowly approved in a 2-1 vote, Republican Commissioner Joe Gale doubled down on his opposition to the initiative, citing that the declaration would delay a return to a sense of economic normalcy.
He has disagreed with the extension on numerous occasions.
“It creates too many hardships for too many families that are suffering because of this and they shouldn’t be suffering to the degree of which they are,” Gale said.
However, Montgomery County Commissioners’ Vice Chairman Ken Lawrence Jr. sought clarification from the county’s legal counsel about how the declaration does not apply to “reopenings or shutdowns,” but instead, “this declaration allows us to apply for reimbursements for expenses.”
To which Stein affirmed his questions and statements.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present economic challenges, the commissioners authorized up to $1 million in federal grants to assist food pantries in Montgomery County.
As part of the Montgomery County Food Pantry Assistance Program the monies, obtained through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, would go to purchasing food, supplies and equipment for facilities, according to Chief Financial Officer Dean Dortone.
During the meeting’s public comment portion, Bridgeport resident Mark Jones suggested that there be more uniformity when it comes to testing and reopening Montgomery County’s 22 public school districts.
“We should have a robust testing strategy so that people can feel safe reopening schools,” he said.
Montgomery County Commissioners’ Chairwoman Valerie Arkoosh praised her constituents on their abilities to comply with a number of COVID-19 health and safety guidelines including wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and getting tested.
She added the area’s positivity rate since Sept. 25 was at 2.36 percent, its lowest since cases were first reported back in March.
“So great job everybody, but we need everyone to stay the course,” Arkoosh said.
Arkoosh stressed the importance of observing instances in other cities, states and countries who have experienced low case-rates before seeing a larger uptick, which she attributed to a lack of vigilance as people “relax[ed]” when case numbers dropped. She warned Montgomery County residents not to make the same mistake.
“We know we can see a lot of spread because the virus is still out there and that is evident by the fact that every single day we get anywhere from the high 20s to the low 50s in numbers of new cases,” Arkoosh said. “So it is still out there in a big way.”
In other business, the commissioners authorized more than $39,000 in contracts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A $36,752.70 agreement between the county’s Information and Technology Solutions Department and CDW Government, of Chicago, covers “computer accessories for teleworking county employees,” and was made available through a “Sourcewell cooperative contract,” according to the contract.
A $3,018 amendment to a previously approved contract with the county’s commerce department and Paper Mart Inc., of East Hanover, N.J., allows for the distribution of 12,000 COVID-19 kits to a number of businesses in Montgomery County, according to the contract. The kits include printed folders, inserts, window clings, floor stickers, and informational tear-sheet pads, but the additional $3,018 request is for “chipboard inserts to print packets, which will provide stability.”
The contact now stands at $90,430.
The next Montgomery County Board of Commissioners meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Oct. 15.