Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners declares ‘unprecedented’ state of emergency

Wednesday, March 18, 2020 - 3:28pm

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners votes to declare the county in a state of emergency Wednesday morning.

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners votes to declare the county in a state of emergency Wednesday morning. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

Amid college and universities transitioning to online courses, mandatory store closures and limitations on large gatherings, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners voted on Wednesday to declare a state of emergency in the county. The motion, which passed unanimously, will allow for the shift of county resources to assist residents, businesses and communities affected by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

At a meeting of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, chair Jason Morgan said he hoped the motion would help provide economic stability and protect the health of the community.

“For the health and safety of all residents of Washtenaw County and for the long-term stability of our local economy, public safety and criminal justice system and community social safety net, I am declaring a state of emergency,” Morgan said. “This public health emergency is unprecedented, touching every aspect of our lives, and some members of our community will need assistance meeting their basic needs, especially due to the closures of businesses and the dwindling availability of basic necessities.”

Some community members such as Keta Cowan, chief executive officer of Synod Community Services, voiced concern for those that are least able to get essential products and support during the outbreak, such as the elderly. Cowan also added that she felt that the county could do more to help those in need. 

“I am here because of the pandemic and the lack of response, and a lack of a prioritization guideline, in terms of how we are able to obtain resources to keep the least able safe,” Cowan said. “We are not only troubled because we know that the county has a store of backup supplies, but we’ve received no contact from anyone asking us what we might need.”

Morgan recognized Cowan and addressed her worries. He said declaring a state of emergency would help the board respond to the needs of the community. 

“As we heard from Keta today, what we are talking about are the ancillary impacts beyond just the public health aspect of things — the residents who are food insecure or homeless, our economy or local businesses and all these other aspects that I truly believe are reaching a point of a state of emergency now and looking forward,” Morgan said. “Everything we do now to mitigate the impacts on our local businesses and our residents will help us in the long term.”

District 2 Commissioner Sue Shink said she and her colleagues have been working to respond to the pandemic and mitigate its impact on the county.

“We have been talking about vulnerable populations,” Shink said. “We know that there have been efforts made … We really care and are taking this seriously.” 

Morgan also laid out plans for additional efforts that would serve other parts of the community.

“The county has enacted their contingency plan, and although buildings are closed to the public until April 6, 2020, several departments continue to provide essential services,” Morgan said. “Other efforts include the extension of grace periods on fees, fines and costs, as well as working to support school districts who are providing much-needed meals to their students.”

Morgan also discussed the utilization of the Emergency Operations Center, which coordinates the reaction to large-scale emergencies in Washtenaw County. However, Morgan noted that the center may only be reached remotely.

“We’re going to activate the Emergency Operations Center, remotely or virtually,” Morgan said. “There are a lot of those aspects that we still need to work through, as this is pretty unprecedented.”

Daily Staff Reporter Gabriel Boudagh can be reached at gboudagh@umich.edu.