Evidence of the concern surrounding the spreading coronavirus was evident throughout Monday’s Roseburg City Council meeting, including the limit on how many could attend, the somber discussion of actions taken by city officials and law enforcement and the declaration of a state of emergency.
The declaration of a state of emergency, approved by the council Monday night, gives the city several tools to act quickly to address the outbreak, including expediting purchases and approving emergency measures as deemed necessary. The declaration also lays the groundwork for the city to be reimbursed by state and federal agencies for certain expenditures that the city may incur in response to the coronavirus.
In asking for the declaration, city officials wrote:
“According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 presents a ‘high’ potential global health threat. ... The novel infectious coronavirus has created a threat to public health and safety, and constitutes a citywide emergency. ... The effects of the pandemic are changing daily. Adopting the resolution declaring a state of emergency for the City of Roseburg would provide the city with the tools to respond quickly.”
City Manager Nikki Messenger outlined a number of steps Roseburg has taken to address the coronavirus outbreak. Those include closing parks and playgrounds; closing the library, city hall and other government buildings; accepting utility payments and traffic and court fines over the phone, and not shutting the water off for households who have fallen behind on their payments.
Roseburg Police Chief Gary Klopfenstein told the councilors that his officers have their hands full dealing with the new laws implemented in Oregon, including the ordered closure of restaurants, businesses and parks.
“The rules have changed for us,” Klopfenstein said.
He also said the department does not intend to begin handing out tickets to individuals or businesses who may inadvertently be violating the new restrictions.
“We’re trying to be reasonable,” Klopfenstein said. “We’re in the education stage.”
Roseburg police are also grappling with how to deal with the area’s homeless population, including those who often congregate in large groups, which now violates the law. Then there is the shortage of beds in the county jail, which means police are not arresting people they typically would.
On Monday, for example, in a log of activity sent out by the department, of the 19 incidents documented, 14 resulted in the individual being cited and released. Those released included six people charged with trespassing and three others charged with theft.
Monday’s City Council meeting was limited to 25 people, and half of those were city officials. The City Council changed its seating to accommodate the recommended 6-foot space between people, meaning city councilors Andrea Zielinski and Sheila Cox sat separate from the other councilors.
For those who could not attend due to the 25-person limit, the council meeting was streamed live over the internet on YouTube.