READING, Pa. — The recent surge in COVID-19 cases has prompted Berks County officials to declare another local disaster emergency, effective Thursday.

"We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best," said Ronald Seaman, the county's chief administrative officer.

The move, officials said, will allow the county, through its departments and agencies, to respond as quickly as possible to issues surrounding the resurgence of the coronavirus, much of which has been brought on by the omicron variant.

"Title 35 allows us to put a declaration of emergency services in place, such as this, to set aside some of the normal constraints that we have to operate under, like publicly advertised meetings in a certain time period," Seaman said.

Seaman stressed that the declaration should not serve as a cause for alarm; instead, he said, it's the application of a legal mechanism that allows county government to mobilize quickly and effectively in response to the current public health emergency.

"First and foremost, we're not attempting to do things that statutorily we don't have the right to do," he said. "We are trying to streamline our operations here with our county departments."

This is the county's second emergency declaration since the start of the pandemic. The first was put into place on March 12, 2020, and lasted until June 28, 2021. The county has no estimation as to how long this one could last.

"If the surge starts to diminish, which I'm understanding based upon some of the numbers that have come forth through DS today, it appears that right now the flow trend has started to level off a little bit," Seaman said.

Thursday's announcement comes a day after Berks County reported a pandemic high of 651 new cases of COVID-19. The surge has put a strain on the county's two hospitals, both of which have asked the public not to go to the emergency room for testing.

"As far as I know, things are somewhat manageable," Seaman. "There was one other diversionary decision made earlier. I think it was either late last week or early this week."

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