Sumter Commission declares state of emergency in wake of Coronavirus outbreak

Sumter County commissioners Tuesday declared a state of emergency due to the Coronavirus, vesting power in emergency management director David Casto.

The state of emergency is in effect for seven days and can be renewed by another vote of the board of commissioners.

“Right now, there isn’t anything specific that we’re asking the board,” said County Administrator Bradley Arnold. “The state is directing us to remain focused on any (task) where we have the authority.”

He said the emergency status allows the county to respond quickly to direction from the state and federal government.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has asked restaurants to reduce capacity in half and the federal government has recommended that people avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.

Arnold said the directives cause a problem with the board’s next regular meeting scheduled for March 24. He said the 250-person capacity of the meeting room at the Everglades Recreation Center can be cut at least in half by setting up chairs farther apart.

But the county may not be able to further limit the number of people attending a public hearing. Teleconferencing is permitted for state agencies, but not for local governments, Arnold said.

“Would the governor consider waiving that provision?” he asked.

Arnold recommended going ahead with the March 24 meeting. The agenda includes a woman who seeks a zoning change for her mobile home and possible action on a drainage issue on SE 25th Street.

“It sounds like we have a fair amount of county business to discuss,” said Chairman Steve Printz. “It seems like we ought to get it done while we can.”

The county offers a great number of consolidated services for cities, including emergency dispatching and fire services, and Printz said that helps in responding to emergency situations like the Coronavirus.

“When you’re in an emergency, it’s too late (to consolidate),” he said.

Sumter County has no reported cases of the Coronavirus, unlike 28 other Florida counties, including Lake. Statewide, 2,294 people have been tested, 216 have tested positive and results are pending for 1,061 others, according to the Division of Disease Control and Protection of the Florida Department of Public Health.

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