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OKANOGAN - Okanogan, Ferry, Douglas and Grant counties’ commissioners have declared an emergency in response to the coronavirus threat.

Okanogan and Grant counties have activated their emergency operations centers.

The Okanogan County declaration came March 20, with the emergency operations center set up in the Grainger Administration Building.

Commissioners activated the county disaster preparedness plan and said departments “shall endeavor to secure the most competitive price available for goods and services,” and that they are authorized to enter contracts and incur obligations to address emergency responses specific to the pandemic.

Elected officials and departments must put emergency procedures in place to maintain continuity of operations of county government “for mandates not affected by the situation,” said commissioners.

In the resolution, commissioners said elected officials and department heads can take actions “without regard to time-consuming procedures and formalities prescribed by law,” except for mandatory constitutional requirements, and waived competitive bidding and public notice requirements for emergency-related procurements and purchasing/contracting requirements.

Virtual and teleconference options will be used to conduct county business, commissioners said.

From March 20 to April 30, commissioners said elected officials can “approve options for those employees that are deemed non-essential during that time period and are sent home.” Such employees will be considered on call and must remain available to work if called, provided they regularly check their office email and provide a phone number.

The resolution will expire in 30 days or as modified by commissioners.

As of March 21, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Okanogan County. Of 90 samples sent for testing, 37 returned negative results and 53 are pending.

Ferry County

County commissioners declared an emergency March 16 in response to the virus and Gov. Jay Inslee’s declaration of an emergency statewide.

“Ferry County lacks the necessary resources to contain the pandemic,” said the commissioners’ resolution. “This is a present emergency which necessitates activation of the Ferry County … comprehensive emergency management plan and utilization of emergency powers.”

Commissioners, under state laws, waived competitive bidding and public notice requirements related to lease or purchase of supplies, equipment, personal services or public works, and for professional and/or technical consultant contracts.

Departments also were authorized to exercise the same powers “in light of the demands of a dangerous and escalating emergency situation without regard to time-consuming procedures and formalities otherwise normally prescribed by law,” except for mandatory constitutional requirements.

They also asked for assistance from the state.

Douglas County

Douglas County commissioners declared an emergency March 18.

“It is imperative that the county prepare itself to immediately and efficiently respond to any COVID-19-related events in the near and/or long-term future, foreseen or unforeseen, ranging from the urgent safety and welfare of its citizens to protecting the overall health of its businesses and economy,” said the resolution.

The sheriff and emergency management were directed to active portions of the county’s emergency management plan necessary to combat effects of the virus “to the extent possible,” said commissioners.

They put the sheriff, risk manager and human resources manager in charge of internal and external information dissemination, and said elected officials and their designee are authorized to enter contracts and incur obligations to combat the emergency. The commission chairman can adjust human resources policies related to leave usage and other issues related to employees as necessary and to act on behalf of the board during the emergency proclamation.

All commission meetings related to the virus emergency “are not required to meet the notice requirements and meeting location restrictions of the Open Public Meetings Act,” said the resolution, which is open-ended “unless otherwise determined” by commissioners.

In a separate proclamation March 18, commissioners limited access by the general public to county buildings and facilities, with two exceptions: Those who have hearings or other court dates, and those who have business with county offices and have called ahead and sought advice about meeting.

“Douglas County government is not closing or shutting down,” said commissioners. “It will continue to provide government services. Offices and departments are developing procedures to process transactions and provide functions and services without face-to-face interactions with the public so as to lessen the impact of the access limitation and the epidemic itself.”

Grant County

Grant County’s emergency operations center, in Ephrata, was activated March 16 by Sheriff Tom Jones. Representatives from the county’s public safety agencies assembled at the center to analyze and share information, and prioritize resources.

Jones’ decision was prompted by an emergency declaration made by Grant County commissioners.

“This is a normal procedure for a major emergency threatening or happening in Grant County,” said a sheriff’s office announcement. “Our operational priorities are to protect life, coordinate resources to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and coordinate resources to support response and recovery for local government and private businesses.”

As of Saturday, Grant County had 18 cases of COVID-19, including one death; 83 negative tests; four probable cases, and 137 people tested but awaiting results.

The Grant County Sheriff’s Office asks that people not call 911 seeking updates on the virus. Information is at http://granthealth.org.

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