Lansdale Reporter: Coronavirus changes protocol for Montco commissioners meeting
March 20, 2020
NORRISTOWN — It wasn’t the typical Montgomery County Commissioners meeting Thursday morning as increased precautions were taken amid concerns of COVID-19.
Only 10 people were allowed in the meeting room. Those planning to attend the meeting had to get their temperature checked and use hand sanitizer before heading inside.
Anyone with a "temperature of more than 100.4 degrees," or showing "other symptoms of COVID-19" would not be permitted to enter, according to a statement from county officials.
Montgomery County Commissioners Valerie Arkoosh, Kenneth Lawrence Jr. and Joe Gale had empty seats between them to create distance. A few chairs were staggered several feet apart in the meeting room.
“So, obviously things are a little different since last we were here,” Arkoosh said.
The podium was also equipped with a phone that dialed into a room on a different floor where county staff could speak on other matters. That room also served as overflow for members of the public, however, only one person attended.
Acknowledging the effects of the coronavirus on Montgomery County, the commissioners expressed their appreciation for county staff and first responders.
Montgomery County reported its first two presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 on March 7. The number of cases had increased to 42 as of Wednesday, as the largest outbreak by far in Pennsylvania.
On Wednesday, Arkoosh said the county had moved to a "community spread model," meaning cases were no longer confined to people who had known direct contact with persons testing positive.
“This has been a team effort. Everyone’s been working very hard,” Gale said. “I would like to give my deep sincere thank you to all of the employees helping us get through this.”
Arkoosh also touted the county’s efficient efforts of “setting up emergency processes and systems, and working with our entire community to make sure people are as safe as possible.”
Lawrence agreed, and said the Montgomery County Department of Public Safety has “been working 24/7 since this all started.”
While there were adjustments to Thursday’s meeting, other processes may not change. Lawrence said. “We do have an election coming up, and it has not been moved,” he said.
Pennsylvania’s primary election is scheduled for April 28, and Lawrence urged Montgomery County residents “to vote by mail.” The commissioners did not mention seeking to delay the election, an action that county boards in both Chester and Delaware counties have requested of Gov. Tom Wolf.
During the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting, Norristown council member Heather Lewis, who represents the municipality’s second district, addressed county leadership to advocate for the “emergency release” of “vulnerable populations from the prisons and the jails due to COVID-19.” She added she’d like to see additional inquiries pursued through Wolf’s office.
Despite these uncertain times, the commissioners also said they appreciated the “patience” and support of area residents helping their fellow neighbors by offering to go to the grocery store, among other things.
“It’s been an extraordinary outpouring of community spirit, and we will get through this together. I have no doubt about that at all,” Arkoosh said.
For more information and resources on COVID-19 in Montgomery County, visit montcopa.org/covid-19.