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Sangamon County Declares Disaster Area; Springfield To Consider Emergency Declaration

Mary Hansen
NPR Illinois
Sangamon County Health Board Chair Dr. Brian Miller addresses the media.

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rises, Sangamon County declared the county a disaster area this week, loosening rules for hiring and purchasing.

County Administrator Brian McFadden said the move will allow them to more quickly hire personnel or buy other equipment without having to wait for a county board meeting to approve it.

The county government oversees the Sangamon County Department of Public Health, which is coordinating with the Illinois Department of Public Health to respond to the outbreak.

“It's really designed for public health to be more responsive in these things,” McFadden said. He added that it sounds ominous, but mostly concerns internal processes.

“Those bureaucratic processes that are normally good are in place for transparency and accountability. But given these unusual times, we felt it was warranted,” he said.

He said the declaration is in place until the next county board meeting in a couple weeks, when the board can decide whether to extend it.

Meanwhile, Springfield city officials Tuesday night started the discussion about a state of emergency.

The proposal, which was added to the agenda just before the meeting, puts into place rules that would allow the mayor to call a state of emergency. That could include powers like instituting a curfew or halting the sale of alcohol.

The city council must first approve the rules, which could happen at an emergency meeting next Tuesday.

Mayor Jim Langfelder said he doesn’t intend to use the powers right away.

“We're at that point in time where we want to make sure that we have the ability to be nimble or flexible,” he said.

The council met in person Tuesday, but half the aldermen chose to call in. Three council members say they’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive for covid-19 and are in self-quarantine.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has continued to urge people to stay at home as much as possible, instituting bans on gatherings of more than 50 people and closing most restaurants and bars.

He also signed new rules this week that relax restrictions around electronic participation in public meetings, which make it easier for city councils or county boards to meet virtually.

Mary Hansen is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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