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Commissioners rescind COVID emergency declaration

by CHAD SOKOL
Daily Inter Lake | December 22, 2020 10:00 AM

The Flathead County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to rescind their prior declaration of a COVID-19 emergency, saying none of the county's emergency funds have been used to mitigate the coronavirus as county departments have relied instead on state and federal relief.

The commissioners unanimously approved the emergency declaration in March, freeing up money that the Flathead City-County Health Department and other agencies could use to fight COVID-19. That included about $570,000 from the county's general fund and about $269,000 from a special emergency fund, according to Commissioner Randy Brodehl.

The commissioners rescinded that declaration during their Tuesday morning meeting. The move drew no public comments.

Commissioner Pam Holmquist said they passed the emergency declaration "not knowing for sure what was going to happen with the COVID, and so we wanted to be prepared … And through this process, we've been able to cover our expenses with other funds, and we have not spent any of the funds within our emergency fund, which is a good thing for the community."

The county's emergency funds are separate from relief reimbursements under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that Congress passed in March.

Joe Russell, who this month reprised his role as Flathead County's health officer, said Monday the health department is spending the last of its CARES Act funding before it expires Dec. 30. Russell said there's no need for additional emergency funding from the county.

"We haven't needed it, and it's right for the commissioners to get that resolution off," Russell said Monday. "We don't have any desire to tap into that fund."

A total of 56 Flathead County residents have died of COVID-19-related issues, and the county experienced a dramatic surge in coronavirus infections in October, overwhelming health department staff tasked with contact tracing and case investigations. Infection numbers have since tapered off, allowing the department to resume those efforts for all new cases.

Reporter Chad Sokol can be reached at 758-4434 or csokol@dailyinterlake.com