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Twin Falls city, county issue declarations of emergency in response to COVID-19
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Twin Falls city, county issue declarations of emergency in response to COVID-19

City Council confronts COVID-19 pandemic

The city council convenes in-person and by phone Monday morning, March 23, 2020, at City Hall in downtown Twin Falls. Many small business owners and city staff, including the Chief of Police and Fire Chief sat in attendance. The city unanimously passed a Declaration of a State of Emergency.

TWIN FALLS — City and county officials declared a state of emergency in response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The disaster status unanimously approved Monday by Twin Falls City Council allows administrators to streamline spending on equipment and services used to combat COVID-19; access state and federal emergency money to offset increased spending; and limit liability for the city in responding to the virus.

“Clearly by simply even considering this action, it elevates the importance and the conversation that is occurring in the community,” City Manager Travis Rothweiler said.

South Central Public Health District reports one confirmed case in Twin Falls County. 

The declaration does not amount to a shelter-in-place mandate or require businesses to close. Only Gov. Brad Little has the authority to issue restrictions on residents and private businesses, which he recently did in Blaine County after health officials discovered community spread there. The district confirms 36 cases in Blaine County, the most in the state.

Council members asked staff on Monday to begin developing an ordinance that mandates processes and procedures during a pandemic.

“I think it’s prudent that we are working on it,” Mayor Suzanne Hawkins said. “I don’t think it’s something that citizens need to worry that we’re going to do in the next day or two, or that it’s going to come without a lot of notification and public input.”

Administrators also announced the city will implement a “soft closure” of its facilities effective Monday at 5 p.m. Residents will not be able to access in-person the utility billing office, library, pool and other city services.

Rothweiler said significant infrastructure investments allow the city to continue offering many services online and over the phone.

“We believe that we have the ability to offer all … of the services that we provide through means that do not require individuals to enter into our facilities,” he said.

Non-essential public meetings and facility tours have also been postponed or canceled.

Councilman Craig Hawkins urged residents to not hoard.

“There is no shortage of groceries,” he said. “I think we need to be really aware of other people’s needs as well as our own.”

Twin Falls County Commissioners also approved a similar declaration Monday morning.

Chairman Don Hall said the decision is about flexibility and preparedness for county spending and response.

“In these types of situations, we have to have flexibility with our spending so that we can react quickly to provide those services and the needs for our community, most notably for our first responders and EMS,” Hall said.

“Government has been set up to move slowly by design, but in cases of emergency, we need to be able to move more rapidly to ensure the safety of our community.”

With the declaration, the county is eligible for greater access to state and federal reimbursements, and flexibility in spending and other emergency actions.

Hall said the county is taking the virus seriously but does not plan to issue shelter-in-place mandates in the near future.

“We’ll get through this together,” he said. “The sun is going to come up every morning, and I think we will be fine.”

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