READING, Pa. - The Berks County commissioners have declared a disaster emergency, effective immediately, for the county due to the coronavirus.

The declaration, made Thursday morning, allows for the creation of a leadership council to advise the county’s chief administrative officer and emergency management coordinator in response to COVID-19.

This council will be able to meet as needed in response to COVID-19, without the need to formally advertise times and places of meetings. However, commissioners noted, every effort will be made to list that information on the county website.

The declaration also authorizes “the temporary suspension of all formal requirements in light of the exigencies of this disaster emergency, including all time-consuming procedures and formalities prescribed by law (excepting mandatory constitutional requirements) pertaining to the performance of public work, entering into contracts, the incurring of obligations, the employment of temporary workers, the rental of equipment, the purchase of supplies and materials, the levying of taxes and appropriation and expenditure of public funds.”

Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach cited several reasons for the declaration, including the CDC's Declaration of the COVID-19 as a “public health emergency of international concern,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' declaration that COVID-19 creates a public health emergency, and the PA Governor’s Proclamation of Disaster Emergency.

Solicitor Christine M Sadler called the county a leader in this area and said local municipalities and school districts are looking to the county for leadership. She added that under the current circumstances, the commissioners “need to be able to meet as necessary, so we can stay on top of the situation” and “make important decisions in a timely matter.”

Chief Administrative Officer Ron Seaman said, “In any kind of situation like this, time is of the essence and acting sooner rather than later is always beneficial. Not only in terms of getting our departments thinking about ways to get the jobs completed that they need to complete but making sure that we have the resources and supplies necessary to carry out the function in the period when supplies may be limited due to work stoppages.”

He added, “The main thing that I want to emphasize to the general public is this Declaration of Emergency is not cause for alarm or panic. This is to allow us to relax the standards under which we normally have to operate so that we can make valid rational decisions as needed in an ever-changing climate.”

Seaman said the county is distributing informative rack cards (in both English and Spanish) throughout the county, trying to get the information into every household in the county. He said, “It comes down to some very basic, simple items. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands… Avoid touching your face. Thirdly, avoid large crowds in enclosed spaces.”

Commissioner Michael S. Rivera said Berks County residents should refer to for up-to-date information and reliable resources.

Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt encouraged all Berks County residents to apply for a mail-in ballot for the April 28 primary election and that the county has ordered gloves for all polling locations.

Seaman also announced that Berks Heim is asking that people refrain from visiting the facility at this time. Leinbach said, “We’re not asking. It’s mandated.”

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