Council debates declaring emergency

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter

COUNTY — Pickens County Council has yet to declare a state of emergency in the midst of a statewide coronavirus outbreak, but discussed Monday what might need to happen for it to do so.

“This is a very serious situation that we find ourselves in, but it’s not one that’s changing minute by minute,” acting county administrator Ken Roper said. “It’s something we can give some thought to. There are no bad ideas right now. We think we need everybody’s expertise.”

There were no coronavirus cases in Pickens County as of Monday.

Council voted to suspend discussion of the log numbers for its scheduled Committee of the Whole meeting, adjourn that meeting and enter into an emergency meeting to discuss the coronavirus “as it is affecting us here in the county,” council chairman Roy Costner said.

“I think our focus needs to be on protecting not only the people who work here, but the people who live in Pickens County,” he said.

Roper said declaring a state of emergency would give the county more flexibility in spending regarding the county’s coronavirus response.

“I’m very limited in what I can do,” Roper said. “But if we were in an emergency and you all determine that we were, and I needed to do something, I would certainly advise you, but that would allow me some flexibility.”

Roper presented some potential triggers that could cause council to declare a state of emergency over the coronavirus, including a number of cases in the county, if surrounding counties declared states of emergencies, significant businesses closing or a significant reduction in employees.

“There may be other things that would trigger it in your mind,” Roper said. “What would constitute an emergency in this situation?”

It’s important that the county “project to the public how serious this is,” Costner said.

It’s important to give Roper the authority he needs to address an emergency when he needs it, he said.

“What should be our trigger point?” Costner said. “I really think government, our job is to serve. Our employees here, their job is to serve.”

Councilman Carl Hudson said if the county had just a couple of coronavirus cases, those could be quarantined.

“But what’s your plan if it’s in the jail?” he asked. “What’s your plan if it’s in a local nursing home?”

The county has “open lines of communication” with area hospitals, Costner said.

Coronavirus isn’t your typical emergency situation, Councilman Chris Bowers said.

“This isn’t a tornado. This isn’t a flood. This isn’t a fire,” he said. “This is something that you can’t visibly see. It’s literally hurry up and wait.”

The definition of a disaster is “something that overtaxes or overwhelms the resources you have available,” Bowers said.

Pulling the trigger on declaring a state of emergency “has to be swift and quick,” Bowers said, but council needs to be thoughtful in its actions, Costner added.

“What I hope that we don’t do is contribute to the panic,” he said. “We need to err on the side of safety and caution, but we also don’t need to run around screaming that it’s armageddon.”

Councilman Wes Hendricks asked how many county employees are over the age of 65. Older residents are more at risk from the virus.

Roper said staff would get that number.

“How much of our staff can work from home?” Hendricks asked.

County staff has the technological capability “to do a great deal of work from home,” Roper said.

County staff are exploring other options, including reducing foot traffic and face-to-face interactions at county offices.

Department heads will be calling in with updates regarding coronavirus first thing every morning going forward, Roper said.

Council took no action before adjourning the meeting.