Harris declares county state of emergency to pave way for federal aid

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 20, 2020 9:29 AM CT | Published: March 19, 2020 3:51 PM CT

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Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris declared a state of emergency Thursday, March 20, following a similar action earlier by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

The mayor spoke during the Shelby County Health Department’s 2 p.m. press conference.

“We are in a moment unlike any other that any of us have ever experienced,” Harris said, noting the last large epidemic in the area was Yellow Fever.

“We are taking this public event seriously and every day we are taking numerous steps to mitigate the negative public health consequences,” he said.

Harris said county government efforts are transitioning into a “new phase.”

Earlier in the day, 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were announced in the county.

“These new cases and other data suggest we are in community spread or in community transmission,” he said.

He said all decisions at this time are based on science, and he urged postponing events and following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“Additionally, (the declaration) means it is even more critical that we begin the process of long-term planning for how we will care for patients that develop severe cases and need intensive treatment,” he said. “There is reason to believe the number of patients with severe reactions could be relatively large.”

The declaration is part of “preparatory efforts,” the mayor said.

County government will obtain and distribute supplies needed and emergency aid. The county will also make a plan and put procedures in place in alignment with state and federal emergency agencies.

Emergency Management workers will be appointed, employed and removed with or without pay, according to the executive order declaring the emergency.

The action by the mayor allows the county to apply for federal funding, according to Brenda Jones, Shelby County director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

“In regards to federal funding, we have been approved for public assistance which means it will assist Shelby County Government with addressing the COVID-19 outbreak,” Jones said. “Also funding is going to be available for small businesses as well through (Federal Emergency Management Agency).”

FEMA will also provide funding for groceries and household items for elderly and disabled.

“This will put our county in a position, – in a posture – to receive vital aid when it is available,” Harris said. “This declaration will streamline the process for Shelby County to obtain equipment and supplies and make necessary appointments in response to this emergency or in an effort to aid patients.”

He also said the emergency plan will help the “continuity of government operations” and help the county obtain “lifesaving aid”

The county will coordinate with the seven municipalities and is having a meeting to coordinate efforts this evening. Harris said he expects this to be the first of many gatherings.

The declaration is similar to the one made for the city of Memphis earlier this week by Strickland, with the same intent — to make county government eligible to receive federal and state aid connected to the pandemic.

Harris’s declaration also applies to the unincorporated county outside the city of Memphis and outside the six suburban towns and cities within the borders of Shelby County. The emergency declaration also allows broader powers that include setting a curfew and restricting other movements that neither Strickland nor Harris have said they are ready to impose at this point. 

Staff reporter Bill Dries contributed to this story. 


Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris Shelby County State of emergency coronavirus COVID-19
Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a graduate of the University of Memphis. She has worked for several local publications and covers the suburbs for The Daily Memphian.


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