Routt County’s COVID-19 disaster declaration will soon be two years old |

Routt County’s COVID-19 disaster declaration will soon be two years old

Commissioner have extended the declaration 24 times since March 13, 2020

In what has become a routine move, the Routt County Board of Commissioners approved the 24th continuation of the local disaster declaration related to COVID-19 on Tuesday, Feb. 15.

The extension means the declaration — which was first put in place on March 13, 2020 — will extend into its second year with little indication when it might end. While it will likely get extended again, the current declaration expires on March 28.

“I think probably once the state gets out of their mode, we’ll be out of ours,” said Routt County Manager Jay Harrington. “The only reason the county is still doing it is in case there’s additional funding, which comes under that umbrella.”

The order dates back to when COVID-19 was known as the novel coronavirus and when governments on all levels were reacting to a rapidly developing situation.

When the first declaration was approved, Routt County had seen just two cases of COVID-19. Since then, there have been 6,064 more.

The initial order followed similar orders put in place by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and then-President Donald Trump, and it made the county eligible for reimbursement from federal and state governments for resources spent on the pandemic.

Polis’ office didn’t give an indication when these declarations might end on a state level on Tuesday.

“The Polis Administration has been supportive of local governments doing what works for them to respond to the pandemic,” said Melissa Dworkin, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, in a statement. “We expect Colorado will remain in the recovery phase for COVID to access federal funds.”

This reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency can be a lengthy process, said Commissioner Beth Melton, which is why these disaster declarations are sometimes left in place for an extended amount of time.

“I keep thinking about talking to commissioners in Boulder County that say they still have standing disaster declarations from the floods that happened,” Melton said, referencing floods in 2013 that caused more than $4 billion in damage across the Front Range.

There are still 18 disaster declarations from the 2013 floods waiting to be fully reimbursed by the federal government, according to a database of disasters created by FEMA.

Out of 208 disasters declared in Colorado since 2013, 114 of them are still waiting to be fully closed out.

The only declaration active in Routt County is the one commissioners extended on Tuesday.

“As long as (the state of Colorado) keeps continue their declaration, we’re going to follow that lead unless there are obvious differences between what’s happening in Routt County, versus the state,” said County Attorney Erick Knaus.

Knaus said the declaration is important to keep in place because there may be money available eventually that isn’t known about now or doesn’t exist yet.

“It’s not likely, I would say, and others would say it’s not ever going to happen,” Knaus said about getting additional aid. “But as long as there is any possibility that the county can benefit from this recovery and all of the resources the county has put out during the pandemic, why not do that?”

Knaus said he was actually a little surprised the state has maintained its declaration for so long, as some counties have opted to end their local orders.

Eagle County did away with its measure last month with one commissioner telling the Vail Daily, “It’s hard personally to live under a constant state of emergency.”

Commissioner Tim Redmond had a similar reflection Tuesday. While he believes Routt County needs to keep the door open for potential funding due to COVID, Redmond said he is also getting to the point where “this should all go away.”

“I don’t like the message that it sends: continuing disaster,” Redmond said. “I don’t know that I feel like we’re in a continuing disaster anymore. I think we’re into just our modern world — the new normal.”

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