Commissioners delay disaster declaration

First Canadian County case wasn’t confirmed until after Monday’s commissioners’ meeting

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By Conrad Dudderar

Senior Staff Writer

EL RENO – Despite growing fears across Oklahoma about the coronavirus outbreak, Canadian County Commissioners took no action Monday morning on a request to declare this county a disaster area.

Their decision came after Gov. Stitt issued a statewide disaster declaration Sunday night – but before any cases had been confirmed in Canadian County.

District 2 County Commissioner Dave Anderson said he wanted to receive more information from the Oklahoma Health Department before passing a proclamation declaring an emergency in Canadian County.

“A potential disaster, I can see,” Anderson said.

Commissioner Anderson said he wanted to attend a briefing at the health department on Tuesday to receive “accurate information through a source other than the media or social network” before he makes “a decision about whether I consider Canadian County to be a disaster area.”

Canadian County Commission Chairman David Anderson

“I would like for the health department to weigh in on that,” he said. “They are the experts in this field; certainly not us.”

County commissioners could reconvene within 48 hours to again consider the resolution if they determine the situation is “dire” in Canadian County, County Commission Chairman Marc Hader said Monday.

Chairman Hader also wanted to hold off at Monday’s commissioners’ meeting on approving an official disaster declaration for Canadian County, concerned about what he called a possible “overreaction”.

“If it’s really a crisis, we can call a special meeting before next Monday,” said Hader, the District 1 commissioner.

SUPPLIES ‘SCARCE’

Canadian County Emergency Management Director Andrew Skidmore approached county commissioners near the end of their weekly meeting Monday to present the proposed proclamation.

There’s a shortage of emergency supplies like gloves, masks and gowns for Canadian County’s first responders, Skidmore said.

“The supplies are really scare right now,” he said. “The proclamation is for those particular items.”

An official Canadian County proclamation would provide local communities access to state and federal funds for disaster “aid, relief and assistance”, according to District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart.

“That’s why it’s critical that we bring this up as new business since it just came up yesterday,” Stewart said Monday morning.

On Sunday afternoon, President Trump declared a national disaster after previously declaring a national emergency over the coronavirus concerns. Trump’s declaration would provide up to $50 billion for disaster aid – if needed.

Gov. Kevin Stitt on Sunday night declared a state of emergency in Oklahoma. Gov. Stitt advised anyone who shows symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home and call their doctor or the state health department.

“Trickle-down effect,” Skidmore told Canadian County Commissioners Monday morning. “The President makes a declaration. That gives the federal government supplies to give to the states, they give to us (the county), we give to the cities.

“We’re freeing up funds and getting ‘our slice of the pie’.”

On Monday morning, Skidmore told Canadian County Commissioners there were “no active cases” in Canadian County but one positive test in Oklahoma County and one in Cleveland County.

“This is a preventative measure,” Skidmore said of the proclamation.

The state health department later confirmed the first COVID-19 case in Canadian County among 10 confirmed cases across Oklahoma.

POTENTIAL SPREAD

District 3 County Commissioner Jack Stewart

With the potential spread of the virus in Canadian County, the emergency management director asked that county commissioners consider the proclamation and direct implementation of the county’s emergency operations plan.

Commissioner Stewart said there was a potential for the illness to spread to the general public.

“Immediate attention is required to protect the public, ensure public safety (and) render emergency relief,” said Stewart, reading from the proposed proclamation.

County commissioners find these conditions “constitute a threat” and this “creates an emergency” within the state’s Emergency Management Act, the District 3 commissioner added, again reading from the draft document.

Several Canadian County municipalities considered emergency proclamations early this week so they could receive disaster funds through the county. The City of Yukon approved its proclamation Monday morning.

Although “only a handful of counties” have reported positive cases, Stewart reasoned that Gov. Stitt would not have made a statewide disaster declaration unless there was a real threat.

“We need to stay on top of it,” Commissioner Stewart said. “I would like to move forward but there are two against it.”

Commissioner Anderson quickly responded, saying he “wasn’t necessarily against it.”

“I want to make an educated decision,” he said. “All I’ve heard so far is what I’ve heard on the news and social media. And that contradicts comments the health department has made in public meetings.

“A representative of the health department has talked about the over-sensationalism of this event. I want to make a decision based on facts.”

Commissioner Anderson questioned whether the Canadian County proclamation should incorporate all the changes that county officials want to make.

“If we’re going to make a decision about a disaster declaration for Canadian County, what else might we want to talk about?” he said.

On Monday afternoon, Canadian County District Judge Jack McCurdy announced the jury trial docket set for April 6 had been canceled. Those trials have been moved to the May 4 docket.