Cities, County Declare Emergency, Courts Stay Open

Declarations of emergency will help governments access funds, adjust to new policies

Screenshot from Livestream of Eugene City Council Special Meeting

At noon, Tuesday, March 17, the Eugene City Council voted unanimously at a special meeting to allow City Manager Pro Tem Sarah Medary to declare a state of emergency to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic. The Lane County Board of Commissioners made an emergency declaration earlier in the morning and Springfield City Council did so on Monday, March 16.

“Collectively we are all focused on slowing the spread of COVID-19, preserving our health care capacity, and protecting the most vulnerable,” Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis said in a statement. “Declaring a state of emergency helps solidify our partnership and strengthens our capacity to respond to this emergency.”

The emergency is in effect until Gov. Kate Brown lifts her restrictions on gatherings.

For Eugene, declaring an emergency will increase state and federal resources to address COVID-19 in the community, Eugene-Springfield Fire interim Chief Chris Heppel said at the meeting.

“It also provides authorization for agencies to expand their ability to respond to the situation with updated or new policies, including working with vulnerable populations and businesses,” he said.

He said that during the emergency, public safety will continue to respond to police calls, crimes in progress and other life-saving instances. Currently, he said, call volume has not changed.

But don’t treat this declaration of emergency as a reason to hoard groceries and other items. During the meeting, Heppel said he’s heard from the manager of the county Emergency Operations Center that a grocery store manager reported that staff aren’t able to stock shelves — but as of now supplies are not interrupted to grocery stores. This could meant that grocery stores might narrow hours of operations to stock items. Among other grocery stores, WinCo Foods and Fred Meyer have already announced they are closing earlier for this reason.

The declaration of emergency allows the Eugene city manager to do a variety of actions, and she’ll be working with Heppel to make these decisions. But before Medary makes decisions,  she has to consult with the City Council, which could mean through email, phone, in-person or at another emergency meeting, she said.

The council can veto Medary’s decisions through a majority vote if necessary, city attorney Kathryn Brotherton said at the meeting.

Toward the end of the meeting, Medary said that while the city is providing emergency services, she’s also looking at how to keep the city in a financially sound position.

“You don’t want to act too fast and close everything down, but we need to start preparing emotionally and mentally what that would look like,” she said.

Lane County Board of Commissioners unanimously also declared an emergency on Tuesday. Patence Winningham, the county’s emergency manager, said the declaration of emergency will allow the county to reassign staff in the county’s Emergency Operations Center; it’ll also get more resources out in the community.

Dr. Patrick Luedtke, the county’s senior public health officer, said the county needs more testing.

“I am unsatisfied with the level of testing we have presently,” he said. “We have four labs serving the community at present but at very limited amounts.”

Lane County had announced earlier on Tuesday that a total of 97 tests (including testing from private labs) have been ordered for county residents (eight pending). Lane County had a population of 379,000 as of 2018, according to the U.S. Census.

Luedtke added that data from China and western Europe, shows 80 percent of infections are mild or asymptomatic. The amount of testing needed is less than what the public thinks, but the county isn’t at the point where enough testing is happening, he said.

The county’s emergency declaration empowers the use of $750,000. County Administrator Steve Mokrohisky said the money will come from various sources, including state and federal governments. All costs related to COVID-19 will be tracked and later reported.

Commissioner Pete Sorenson asked for the county commissioners to be updated on how that money is being spent during the community response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Springfield City Council’s declaration of emergency was made after appointing the new city manager, Nancy Newton, with a total compensation of $197,181.

As of now, federal courthouses in Eugene, Medford and Portland remain open during the coronavirus pandemic with limited staff according to a standing order by Chief U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez. The District Clerk’s Office will close to the public at all locations, but staff will be available by phone.

As of Tuesday, March 17, 97 tests for the coronavirus have been conducted in Lane County with one positive test from Eugene-Springfield area.

This article was originally published by Eugene Weekly, which like dozens of news organizations throughout the state is sharing its coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving heath issue.