There isn’t a single region in the United States that hasn’t been impacted by COVID-19, and the response from local governments throughout the country has run quite the gamut.
Here in our little corner of the world, the Chester County government has been exemplary in its response to the coronavirus outbreak.
As one would imagine, Chester County didn’t become the model that it is overnight.
“Our Emergency Services and Health departments have been preparing for this since 9/11 (Sept. 11, 2001),” said Bobby Kagel, the County Administrator. “We weren’t preparing specifically for a pandemic, but we were planning in the event that something happened to our people and infrastructure. We were making plans for how we would still be able to provide crucial government services to people in the case of an emergency.”
The result of those efforts through the years produced what Chester County calls its Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP). A few weeks prior to March 13, when Gov. Tom Wolf issued a stay-at-home order for residents of southeastern Pennsylvania, the Chester County Commissioners asked all of the county’s department leaders to review the COOP and prepare for its enactment.
“Chester County has the advantage of a long-established Health Department, staffed with professionals who were advising us on the trends and potential impacts of the coronavirus long before it was officially proclaimed a pandemic,” Chester County Commissioners Marian Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell, and Michelle Kichline said in a joint statement. “Armed with this knowledge, we brought together our department leaders to brief them on the situation and the need to review and tailor their COOP plans accordingly.”
When it became clear that COVID-19 was escalating in the region, the commissioners called for a full activation of Level One of the COOP. That meant only mission-essential services – such as the 9-1-1 Center, Chester County Prison and Youth Center, Pocopson Home, Health Department, court-related services, and the Coroner’s Office – would continue to operate at county facilities. All county employees who could work from home are doing so, allowing a number of other county programs and services to continue.
“When the time came to officially announce our move to essential services-only,” the commissioners said, “we were able to make the decision quickly and confidently, knowing that we had detailed plans in place to maintain mission-critical services at county facilities, as well as continue a majority of programs and services remotely.”
“We’ve been building resources and training in what we call the four C’s – command, control, coordination, and communication,” said Kagel. “I’m so proud of our team all across the county, both within the structure of county government and outside. The collaboration between and among our departments has surpassed even our wildest dreams. Everyone understands the mission and is working toward that mission. It’s a true testament to everyone’s professionalism.”
Chester County has been fortunate to experience far fewer cases of COVID-19 than other counties in the region, including Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks, Lehigh, Berks, and Lancaster counties. And it continues to rate well on social distancing.
“Our community has heeded the warnings,” said Kagel. “I think when we’re beyond this, Chester County would make for a fascinating case study. Is it because of our open space? What’s the secret sauce?
“We’re not out of this yet, though. But we do have some positive momentum.”