MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — "It's a time to prepare but it's not a time to panic," Manatee County Commissioner Misty Servia said. "We have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best."

On Monday, Manatee County Commissioners declared a local state of emergency. This comes after another person in the county tested positive for the virus.

"We added one today for a total of five residents of Manatee County that have tested positive for COVID-19," Jacob Saur said.

Jacob is the Manatee County public safety director. He says the emergency operations center has been planning and preparing for the last two weeks to combat the growing coronavirus concerns.

We already have a national emergency in place, but a local state of emergency allows officials to respond more quickly when it comes to resources to fight the virus.

"It raises procurement levels so we can buy things a little bit more freely," Nick Azzara with Manatee County said. "If we need supplies or to make certain expenditures we can make those more quickly."

Commissioner Servia says it was an easy decision with a unanimous vote.

"Declaring the emergency frees up state and federal dollars to Manatee County," Servia said.

Meaning the county can get reimbursed for any expenses going toward coronavirus response.

"Emergency Management is engaging with the Emergency Services on resource supplies and sending situation reports daily to the state," Saur said.

So far, Saur says there are four mission requests for supplies.

"Florida Department of Health collection kits, EMS, the city of Bradenton, and New College of Florida have requested additional (PPE) personal protective equipment." 

With now the green light from commissioners, Manatee County can work towards filling those requests.

With no treatment or vaccine, available health officials continue to encourage everyone to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer. Today, commissioners practiced what they preached as they handed out small bottles of sanitizer to the room.

"Although we are only at the start of this pandemic with no idea how long it will last, we will surely see this public health event through just as we have with so many others in the past," said Dr. Jennifer Bencie, the county health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County.

The State Emergency Operations Center moved to a Level 2 operations last Friday. It has directed all 67 counties Emergency Operations Centers to activate to a Level 2 status in order to better pass information and requests to the state. Manatee EOC moved to a Level 2 status Monday morning, operating in-person every weekday until 11:30 a.m. with the FL DOH-Manatee IMT team in order to coordinate efforts on mitigation of COVID-19. 

A memo sent to commissioners by Manatee County Administrator Cheri Coryea says:

“We have expanded the required participants to include all ESF-8 (medical) participants as well as Fire, and Law Enforcement representatives.  State EOC has instructed local skilled nursing facilities (SNF) and assisted nursing facilities (ALF) to begin communicating with our EOC with unmet needs they may have in regards to personal protective equipment (PPE) and any other needs.  Those requests are beginning to come in to our EOC and we are processing them at the state level for fulfillment.”

Coryea says there are already other emergency measures being taken. They include designating centralized entrances at county buildings with sanitizing products, flexible work schedules and conducting meetings over the phone or internet instead of in-person.

The memo listed these other measures as well:

  • March 16th - Utilities depart to temporarily close 66th street lobby for all utility payments & new hookups move to on-line & dropbox
  • All 12 County Departments are implementing flexible schedules to reduce the number of employees in one place at the same time
  • All 12 County Departments are realigning meetings to webx, zoom, telephone, facetime, ect., to limit contact for the public where possible
  • All 12 Departments are coordinating remote working for employees that currently have the capability and can still provide quality customer service
  • All other employee job functions are being reviewed for impact to customer and public needs should additional problems arise
  • Currently, all 12 Departments and buildings are open and implementing centralized entrances with hand sanitizer/wipes and or face to face distancing
  • Departments enacting their Continuity of Operations Plans (COOP) for disaster procedures and reviewing current public facing program/services
  • School Districts statewide extend time schools closed through March 27, 2020

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