By Lisa Young
Delta County Commissioners voted 2-1 to extend the local emergency disaster declaration until Aug. 5. Commissioner Don Suppes voted against extending the COVID-19 declaration for the third consecutive time.
“I am going to stick with my guns here,” Suppes said. “I am still going to vote no on this. I appreciate the desire for economic recovery to follow up on this, but this economic recovery itself is caused because this whole situation has been self-inflicted via the government. Things could have been handled differently, the state could have handled this differently from the very beginning, they can handle it differently now. We could have a lot more economic recovery than what we do, and I just can’t see that we move forward with this. I think we need to send a messenger to the governor that enough is enough.”
Suppes continued saying that Delta County has flattened the curve and could take measures to “step back into an emergency declaration” if needed.
Chairman Mark Roeber said he concurred with Suppes in principle, but said “this wasn’t necessarily the time that I would support not going forward with the resolution to extend the emergency declaration.”
Prior to board approval, Kris Stewart, emergency manager, gave a brief update on the COVID-19 response and recovery efforts during the remote meeting. Stewart reported that Delta County currently has 53 positive cases; 30 probable positives for a total of 83 cases with 78 individuals recovered.
“We are asking the board of county commissioners to extend the local emergency disaster declaration today until Aug. 5 so we can continue responding to COVID-19 in our response phase while simultaneously ramping up recovery efforts.”
Stewart reminded the board that the coronavirus pandemic has caused local, regional, state and federal economic damage. He said that signing the declaration by the commissioners was “not an endorsement or continuation of any of Gov. (Jared) Polis’s safer-at-home, or restrictions or CDPHE public health orders, those are separate state executive orders.”
Polis made a number of changes to the safer-at-home policy during a press conference prior to the commissioners’ special meeting. Counties showing a lower risk factor can apply in July for the less strict Protect our Neighbors policies. However, in a reversal, Polis ordered bars and nightclubs to close for in-person service stating that it was too difficult to social distance and prevent transmission of COVID-19. Bars that sell food or function as a restaurant can remain open if they practice social distancing, stay seated with their party and avoid mingling.
Stewart said a complete review of the governor’s latest COVID-19 policies would be discussed during Wednesday’s regular commissioner meeting.
“Delta County does have a disaster policy allowing emergency declarations such as this to be enacted when the county itself or the cities, municipalities, special districts are suffering from a natural or man-made disaster which includes pandemics. It allows us to continue operating under an emergency operation plan which allows for finances, supplies and equipment to be used such as PPE that the health department has stored and the purchase of additional supplies going forward into the fall,” Stewart said.
Approval of the declaration allows Delta County to continue working with agencies to purchase additional personal protective equipment such as gowns, face shields and more masks to prepare for the expected fall surge. In addition, Stewart reminded the board the emergency declaration allows for remote meetings by county officials to take place during the pandemic.
“The big reason why we are recommending an extension of the resolution today is for application for state and federal assistance. As we’re unsure that the CARES Act which is federal assistance will be passed to us through the state,” he said.
The county has incurred expenses from the Southwest Incident Management Team (SWIMT) during the full scale emergency management operations. Stewart said the state has indicated it may pick up some of the expenses for SWIMT as well as possible FEMA assistance if the county applies for it in the future.
“To date every west region county is still under an active emergency declaration,” Stewart said, adding, “It’s important to know that part of the emergency is the recovery process and we’re just starting that process. We can’t consider the emergency over until we start seeing local recovery which is just starting here in Delta County.”
Stewart also said the county isn’t sure at this time what funding sources might come down from the state or federal government. He said Polis announced that with the new Protect our Neighbors additional grants might be available to assist with the pandemic.
“Being under an emergency declaration opens the county up to those funding opportunities,” he concluded.
County Attorney John Baier said commissioners have a scheduled meeting on Aug. 5 and can decide at that time to end or extend the declaration. While the language in the resolution was “sharpened,” according to Baier, the fundamentals remain the same.
“Of course we’ve already done this a number of times, this was initially declared an emergency in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic situation back on March 21. It has been continued a number of times as listed in the resolution that’s before the board today,” he said.