On Tuesday, March 17, during a special meeting of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, at which a quorum was present and voting, all ten supervisors, considered and approved a resolution of a Declaration of Local Emergency Management effective immediately, March 17, 2020, in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Chairman Jeffrey C. McKay (D) opened the emergency session. "As people can see, we are spacing, in adherence with CDC (Center for Disease Control) guidelines, and we have limited skeleton staff here today because frankly, our folks are working hard out there in the community to make sure our community remains safe. What you will see at the dais today, you can see us, but also with us, of course, we have a full board here, all ten members, Supervisor Walkinshaw and Supervisor Alcorn, and because of the spacing, are down here in front of us." McKay read the resolution and made a motion to approve. Vice Chairman Gross (D) took the role of Chairman.
Before the supervisors voted on the resolution and during board consideration of the Declaration of a Local State of Emergency, County Attorney Elizabeth D. Teare said that under Virginia code, the Declaration of Local Emergency would be signed by County Executive Bryan Hill as the Director of Emergency Management and as defined in code provision. "The Board of Supervisors' role is to confirm the issuance of that Declaration of Emergency and essentially approve it and consent to it," Teare said.
According to Gross, this was the same procedure used for natural disasters. Whatever the cause, the Board had to ratify what the County Executive does. "We (the Board of Supervisors) don't have individual powers to create, to do that. It's all devolved upon the County Executive," said Supervisor Gross.
Supervisor Walter L. Alcorn (D-Hunter Mill) asked what the Board's role was in terms of oversight. Teare said the issuance of a Declaration of Local Emergency set an Emergency Operations Plan in motion. It also facilitated applications for federal and state disaster planning efforts, among other things. "And really, the third bullet point that I would add is that it serves as the foundational document for additional actions if any, that the Board may wish to take to address this emergency. It sort of sets the stage for anything you might wish to do with regard to this emergency going forward."
ANOTHER BENEFIT or value to the declaration, said John W. Foust (D-Dranesville), was that it sent a message to the community that this was an emergency situation. "This is all hands on deck," Supervisor Foust said.
Calling the attention of new members of the Board, Gross said that the Board did not have nearly as much authority "as some people thought" it did. She underlined the Board's limit. "The Mayor of the District of Columbia is able to do a lot of things, as the mayor. People think we should be able to do the same thing. And that's not the case. By making this declaration, the County Executive is the person who is empowered to make some of those decisions, but it shows that he has the backing of the Board."
Gross cited as an example that the Board did not have the authority to close down a store. “We can't do that," she said. However, the Board could go to the County Executive who could make the decision, "perhaps," she said. "We're also at the mercy of the governor, who has taken a tremendous lead in Virginia, in addressing this emergency," she said.
Summarizing what the Declaration of an Emergency would do, Chairman McKay said: "What this does is allows the County Executive obviously authorizes him to act on behalf of the Board in several ways. It does not allow him (County Executive Bryan Hill, as the Director of Emergency Management ) to do anything that's inconsistent with state law or orders that the governor has put out. And so I just want to be clear, on the idea of ordering a store closed, that's not something that the County would be doing. If the governor made that declaration, obviously, that's something we all would be adhering to. But we don't make that determination."
After recognizing County staff for all their efforts and thanking them, Chairman McKay said, "I don't believe that there's any better place in this country or this world to make it through trying times than in Fairfax County. I think we have to reflect on the starting point that we have here with our resources, with our county staff, with our engaged community, with our business community with really everyone who is pitching in to help... We will have battle scars without a doubt... And so while there's a lot of uncertainty, and we're declaring an emergency today, there should be a lot of satisfaction and knowing that we are well resourced and ready to take this on."
GROSS called the motion. "All those in favor of the motion, please say aye. 'Aye'. Any opposed say, nay. That motion carries."
In his release later that evening, Chairman McKay said, "This declaration is very important for small businesses. Now that our jurisdiction is officially under ‘emergency’ status, they can apply for emergency loans from the Small Business Administration."
Fairfax County Latest Update
March 17: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Daily Update, Posted at 5:30 p.m. A summary of recent news about COVID-19 for March 17, 2020:
March 17: New Presumptive Positive Cases Today: 2
Total Presumptive Positive Cases: 12
(Health District includes Fairfax County, City of Fairfax, City of Falls Church and towns within the County)
Source: Fairfax County Emergency Information