Jefferson Co. Declares Disaster Emergency; Restricts Access to County Buildings in Response COVID-19 Pandemic


BROOKVILLE, Pa. (EYT) – On Wednesday afternoon, Jefferson County issued a Declaration of Disaster Emergency in alignment with federal and state disaster designations.

Additionally, the commissioners announced that effective immediately and until further notice, they are restricting access to county buildings to visitors and eliminating non–essential business.

County officials will continue to monitor developments and provide further guidance in the coming days.

According to Tracy Zents, Director of Jefferson County Department of Emergency Services, as of 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, there were no reported cases of COVID-19 in Jefferson County.

“We have been actively working on our contingency plans to deal with the Coronavirus epidemic,” Zents said in a release from the County. “The most important thing we can do at this time is to follow the advice of the CDC, medical professionals, the president, the governor, our county commissioners, and other local officials to help stop the spread of this virus.”

Zents stated that residents need to remain calm, but vigilant, regarding the current situation and continue practicing social distancing, as well as washing their hands often, and covering coughs or sneezes with inner elbows.

“We have developed contingency plans for the Emergency Services Building,” Zents said. “Visitor access is restricted to the lower level lobby only where our staff will communicate with you through a glass window. The emergency operations center has been activated to respond accordingly to this ever-changing and dynamic situation with updates and changes coming in about every three hours.
We have our EOC staff reaching out to different groups within the communities to help evaluate their situation and get real-time snapshots on the effects of the pandemic in each of the municipalities and townships in the County, and to assess their needs.

Zents noted that local hospitals and first responders are “paramount” in response to this situation.

“We are actively engaged with all of them to make sure they have the resources they need to respond to those calls,” Zents said. “Our 9-1-1 Center is currently on a non-visitor restriction.”

Zents stated that only county personnel and vendors required to keep critical infrastructure operating will be permitted at the 9-1-1 Center. He also noted they have developed a continuity of operations plan in the event that any of the staff becomes ill and cannot come to work.

“Our core mission is to be able to answer those 9-1-1 calls and get help to the people that need help,” Zents said. “We will continue to provide this level of service without interruption. We have changed several of our protocols for screening callers to identify the potential of a virus, so we can update our EMS agencies and hospitals for their safety. We ask all callers calling 9-1-1 to work with us for their overall safety.”

According to Zents, at the recommendation of the Department of Health, and to prevent an overload to the county’s EMS and hospitals, it is recommended that anyone with any of the identified symptoms first contact their primary care provider (PCP), and for those utilizing the Penn Highlands system, then call the Penn Highlands referral line at 814-375-6644.

“Please, do not go directly to your doctor, Q-Care, Express Care, or hospital without calling first,” Zents said. “We cannot overload our hospitals. Follow their guidance.”

He noted they are also asking local residents to be mindful of their friends and neighbors when picking up items at the store.

“While we know that everyone is stocking up to stay sheltered, it is sending shock waves through the communities, extending the fears. If we continue to purchase what we need once a week or every two weeks, there will be supplies for everyone.”

He stated the County will also be working with local community food banks to develop plans moving forward.

According to Zents, they will continue to monitor the current conditions and maintain situational awareness through the Emergency Operations Center and are asking local municipalities and emergency services agencies to “lean forward” and provide them with changes in posture, so the County knows how to support their needs.

“We will continue to do our due diligence to keep ahead of this situation,” Zents said. “There is no one on this planet that is immune to this situation. Whether you believe this or not, this threat is real. We can’t lose sight that we still have to function as a society, and we have to work together to restore our communities after this threat is over. It takes all of us to stop the COVID-19 spread.

“At Jefferson County, we prepare for the worst and hope for the best. We will get through this together.”

Because of the declaration, the following policies are in effect in Jefferson County:

  • All persons are asked to refrain from visiting county offices if at all possible. A host of services provided through the County are available online or can be conducted by mail, including dog licenses, fishing licenses, payment of certain taxes, etc. County staffers are available by phone to assist the public. A list of online options and telephone numbers can be found at Jeffersoncountypa.com.
  • The Jefferson County Courthouse and Jefferson Place will be restricting public access. A hands-free telephone system and mailbox system will be put in place to serve the public.
  • County Maintenance and cleaning staff have been regularly disinfecting doorknobs and common touching areas.
  • Jefferson County Department of Emergency Services has opened the Emergency Operations Center and is closing public access to its facilities.
  • All Jefferson County Senior Centers are closed. Center participants are being provided their normal lunchtime meals three days a week either by delivery or through arrangements for pickup at the centers.
  • All outside Visitation to the Jefferson County Jail has been suspended until further notice.
  • The Jefferson County Veterans Affairs Office is no longer be available for walk-in service. Director Krupa Steele is available to deal with Veterans issues either by phone or by appointment; telephone 814-849-1529.
  • The Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency and the County Commissioners remain in contact with the PA Emergency Management Agency, PA Department of Health (DOH), and other public agencies for timely and accurate information on the Coronavirus threat as well as state and federal restrictions and related policies. Contingency plans are in place in the event of a heightened threat that calls for stricter public safety measures. The most recent updates to the pandemic and plans will be updated on the county web page at www.Jeffersoncountypa.com.
  • The DOH is continuing to update its Coronavirus webpage with any new information or guidance for the public. DOH has multiple resources on the page, including a FAQ, fact sheets, infographics, information for travelers, educators, pregnant and breastfeeding women, businesses, and health care professionals and facilities. DOH encourages sharing the department’s Facebook and Twitter posts and messaging. It is important to remember that the most accurate and timely information regarding this outbreak is available through the DOH, as well as the CDC website and social media channels. Those with concerns or
questions can also call 1-877-724-3258 (which goes directly to DOH nurses).
  • County officials are reminding and encouraging people to utilize the PA – 211 number for non-emergency questions.
  • For additional resources, county officials suggest visiting the following links:

    Pennsylvania Department of Health Main COVID-19 Pages: https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx

    https://www.pa.gov/guides/responding-to-covid-19/

    Pennsylvania Emergency Preparedness Guide: https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/Documents/Emergency%20Preparedness/2017%20DOH%20EP%20Guide.pdf

    Centers for Disease Control Main COVID-19 Page: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

    Centers for Disease Control COVID-19 FAQ Page: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html


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