By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
EL RENO – Canadian County Commissioners, at an emergency meeting Tuesday afternoon, approved a proclamation declaring the county to be a “disaster area.”
The action came after COVID-19, the coronavirus, was diagnosed with the potential to spread in Canadian County.
County commissioners’ approval of the proclamation allows Canadian County to receive “aid, relief and assistance” from the federal government; with funds passed through to municipalities and local first responders.
There are two confirmed cases in Canadian County among 17 cases across Oklahoma – with potential for the virus to spread illness to the general public, officials said.
Canadian County Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the disaster declaration after attending an Oklahoma Health Department briefing Tuesday morning on the coronavirus.
County Commission Chairman Marc Hader read aloud the emergency proclamation at Tuesday afternoon’s special meeting.
The proclamation reads, in part, that “immediate attention is required to protect public health, ensure public safety and render emergency relief.”
These conditions “constitute a threat to the safety and welfare of Canadian County and create an emergency due to a significant event” under the Oklahoma Emergency Management Act of 2003, according to the document.
Canadian County Commissioners directed implementation of the Canadian County Emergency Operations Plan.
District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart referred to the “urgency” to pass the proclamation to provide Canadian County’s municipalities and public safety agencies with access to federal disaster funds for equipment and supplies.
The proclamation was first presented to commissioners under “new business” at their regular weekly meeting Monday morning by Emergency Management Director Andrew Skidmore.
But commissioners delayed action after District 1 Commissioner Hader and District 2 Commissioner David Anderson said they wanted to receive more details from the Oklahoma State Health Department about the severity of the situation.
Commissioner Anderson said the information he received at Tuesday morning’s health department meeting was what he wanted to “feel good about declaring Canadian County a disaster area.”
“I wanted to make the decision with good information,” he said. “I didn’t want to get in a hurry and have a knee-jerk reaction to what we see in the news and what we read on social media.”
Anderson shared some details from Tuesday’s health department briefing.
“Typically, a healthy young person is going to experience symptoms like the flu,” Anderson said. “Eighty percent of the people that get it have mild-type systems.
“The potentially vulnerable people are those with compromised immune systems already, and the elderly.”
State health officials encourage the “appropriate reaction” but not “panic”, Commissioner Anderson added.
Testing for the new virus is a challenge because the state health department does not have access to many test kits.
“There are certain criteria that must be met before an individual is even going be tested,” Anderson said.
The Oklahoma State Health Department advises people to wash hands often, avoid touching their face and stay at least six feet away from others (known as “social distancing”).
COUNTY OFFICES REMAIN OPEN
Canadian County offices will remain open during the disaster declaration, although county department directors may direct employees to work from home if needed.
“We’re in the business of serving,” Chairman Hader said. “We don’t need to close anything down.”
The public is encouraged to conduct their county-related business on-line or by mail as much as possible during this crisis.
At Tuesday’s emergency meeting, county commissioners met with other county officers to discuss temporary measures for Canadian County offices in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The county officers unanimously approved leave procedures that allow Canadian County employees to use leave time (in this order – sick, annual and comp) for situations arising that require them to be away from work. This will be incorporated into the county’s shared leave policy.
Oklahoma children will be out of school until April 6 “at the earliest,” County Assessor Matt Wehmuller noted.
“These are really unusual times that will end sometime – in the future,” Wehmuller said.
Chairman Hader added, “Hopefully this is very short and temporary.”
Canadian County Court Clerk Marie Hirst referred to county employees with young children who have limited access to childcare.
Court clerk’s employees are wearing gloves when in contact with the public and are frequently disinfecting the counters in the office.
Assistant District Attorney Tommy Humphries encouraged county commissioners to have a plan to ensure a “continuity of operations” in case of a “worst-case scenario” – if a county employee is infected and must be quarantined for 14 days.