This decision, which was made at the court's regular April 28 meeting, allows the county to receive financial reimbursements and funding from the state and federal government during the coronavirus pandemic, County Judge KP George said.
Mark Flathouse, the county fire marshal and coordinator of the office of emergency management, said the funding will help the county's plan to increase testing numbers by keeping the two county-run testing sites open through the end of May and by debuting two additional sites.
“If we're going to do that and have the funding source to maintain those testing sites until May, we need to have that disaster declaration so that [there is] reimbursement of the people that are working those testing sites and the testing kits all the way to the month of May,” he said.
Additionally, a local disaster declaration allows the county to activate its emergency operations plan, which is needed for such an unprecedented situation, according to the judge's office. Flathouse alluded to this at the meeting.
"We don't know if [the coronavirus is] going to flare back up or back down over the next two weeks," he said.
The emergency declaration is separate from the judge’s stay-at-home order, which will expire in line with the state’s stay-at-home order April 30, the judge's office confirmed. The county's declaration is also not dependent on the state's declaration, which Gov. Greg Abbott extended April 12.
The court's vote to extend the county’s disaster declaration comes one day after Gov. Abbott issued an executive order for reopening the economy, which supersedes any local orders restricting essential services.
At the April 28 court meeting, Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers asked when county employees would be allowed to return and when commissioners court could begin meeting in person, especially given Abbott’s order to reopen the economy.
“We need to figure out a way to get back to where we're having Commissioners Court together. [We need] the critical staff ... to answer questions so that we are able to better conduct business,” Meyers said.
George said he agreed with Meyers that the county needs to get back to business. However, he did not have an immediate answer for when and how the county would return to work. George said the county attorney and legal team is working on this issue.
“At this point, the governor issued an order, and so we have to incorporate anything we are going to be doing moving forward incorporating his order,” George said.