Amid concern that the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease will spread in coming weeks, city commissioners this afternoon voted unanimously to declare a state of emergency in Lakeland, giving City Manager Tony Delgado extraordinary authority to respond as events unfold.
The vote was 6-0 with Mayor Bill Mutz absent. The vote came after three local public health experts briefed commissioners on local preparations. So far, 161 cases have been confirmed in Florida, but Polk Health Department Director Dr. Joy Jackson told commissioners there have been no confirmed cases in Polk County.
The resolution, added to the commissioners’ agenda shortly before the meeting started, allows the city to activate its emergency management plan and gives Delgado the power, if needed, to:
- Order evacuations
- Declare curfews
- Declare certain areas of the city subject to quarantine or accessible only under specified conditions
- Prohibit price gouging
- Implement emergency procurement procedures
Those powers are spelled out in Chapter 26 of Lakeland’s City Code and have been granted previously during emergencies such as Hurricane Irma in 2017. In that case, a curfew was instituted on two nights amid fears that businesses could be harmed during widespread power outages, Delgado said.
The emergency declaration also positions the city to be reimbursed for coronavirus-related expenses from state and federal sources, Delgado said.
Before the vote, Commissioner Stephanie Madden expressed concern that granting the authority to the city manager would encroach on the commissioners’ role as policy makers.
Delgado responded that he would consult with commissioners individually or at a called special meeting before taking any extreme action.
Polk County Manager Bill Beasley signed an emergency declaration today, and it’s expected to be approved by the Polk County Commission when it meets Tuesday.
The City Commission meeting began with a presentation about local response to the coronavirus from three public health experts:
- Dr. Daniel O. Haight, infectious disease specialist and vice president of community health at Lakeland Regional Health
- Dr. Steven Achinger, managing partner with Watson Clinic
- Dr. Joy Jackson, director of Polk & Hardee Counties for the Florida Department of Health (DOH)
Madden tried to pin Jackson down on a number of Polk residents who have been tested for coronavirus, but Jackson said she didn’t have a number.
Achinger said Watson Clinic received 26 test kits as of last Friday and tested nine patients over the weekend out of about 400 who reported respiratory symptoms. Doctors are guided in testing by standards set by the Centers for Disease Control, which change daily, he said.
Here is the resolution, followed by Dr. Haight’s slide presentation on coronavirus and video of the meeting: