The Hardin County Supervisors approved an emergency disaster declaration during a special meeting Monday morning.

The move was recommended by Thomas Craighton, the county's emergency management coordinator. He said the declaration will allow the Hardin County Emergency Operations Department to provide additional support to public health entities in the county as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iowa rises. As of Sunday evening, there were 22 confirmed cases, although none of them are in Hardin County.

"I've never seen such a flurry of activity and how it's changing by the hour," Craighton said. "We were told during Saturday night's press conference by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds that schools would remain open. That changed last night. We got an email that the Governor would put out a press release and then I received a call at home that the Governor was on the television stating the schools should close for the next four weeks. That was less than 24 hours between those decisions."

Now that the disaster declaration has been approved, the county's emergency operations will be able to request aid from the state in case there is a shortage of health care supplies such as masks for health care workers. Craighton said his department would also remain in constant contact with public health entities such as Greenbelt Home Care and Hansen Family Hospital. Officials at the hospital said last week that they have adequate supplies of personal protection equipment, including masks, goggles, gloves and gowns.

Reynolds recommended on Sunday night that Iowa schools close for four weeks. But Craighton said even before that, plans were in motion for local schools to practice social distancing.

"Instead of taking students to the cafeteria for lunch, they would get their food and take it back to their classrooms. That was the kind of plan we were looking at and now they are shut down," Craighton said.

As of this morning, none of Hardin County's schools have announced four-week closures. Iowa Falls and Alden are closed today, but future decisions are expected today. AGWSR is open today, but will close tomorrow and further decisions will be made this week. South Hardin schools are on spring break this week.

"This virus . . . no one knows completely what is going to happen, but I would still ask the public to use extreme caution in washing hands and if you are in the population above the age of 60, be mindful of where you go and whom you are around," Craighton said.

There won't be any visible evidence of the supervisors' Monday declaration, Craighton said.

"Not at all. Unless the Governor announces further restrictions. I'm not going to close any restaurants and bars. Maybe in the higher metropolitan areas, that will work," he said. "It's unprecedented times we are living in. We just have to roll with any changes and adapt to ensure the safety of our citizens."

The supervisors met Monday without the normal 24-hour notice. Iowa Code allows for such a meeting in cases that are deemed an emergency.

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