County commission updated on emergency management efforts, COVID-19

(Photo by John Deacon|American Courthouse Photo Archive)

Czajkowski: County will err ‘on the side of safety’ in coming weeks, months

Emergency Management Coordinator Erin Goff provided an update to the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners Tuesday on COVID-19 statistics, and ongoing emergency management efforts within the county.

Goff, who succeeded TJ Baker as emergency management coordinator on Feb. 1 after five years as the county’s director of community, said she’s been “blown away” by the community’s generosity during the global pandemic.

“We have received N95 (masks), we have received surgical masks, gowns, booties, disinfecting wipes, it’s truly been remarkable, and I’m very grateful and appreciative of all of that,” Goff said. “I’ve been working very hard to get all of that equipment out to where it needs to be.”

Goff said the county has also received supplies through a mental healthcare coalition, and she has been assisting with pickups and the distribution of those shipments to hospitals and emergency medical services facilities. 

Another aspect of the county’s emergency management effort is planning for emergency sheltering for those most vulnerable.

“We continue our outreach to vulnerable populations, we’ve been working on a plan for the homeless population, specifically for emergency sheltering,” Goff said. “Emergency sheltering actually for the homeless, and just for displaced people who maybe don’t have another place to go if someone in their family gets sick or perhaps, they get sick and they don’t have anywhere to self-isolate or self-quarantine. So we’re working on a plan for that, (which is) very promising.”

Information sharing within the county is also priority, Goff said, even more so than usual.

“That’s always been a priority but I specially (listed it) as an objective because I want everyone to know that we are here to share information, we’re not trying to keep anything, and, the more the merrier in my opinion.”

Goff can be reached by phone at (269) 467-9045 ext. 281 or electronically at 

During commissioner comments

•Commissioner Dan Czajkowski said he was recently contacted by a constituent who asked when the commission was going to “get around and send a notice to the governor to get this state opened back up and going, we’re going to be losing jobs here.”

“I said, ‘First of all, we’re under the state’s regulations right now and we’re complying with that,’” Czajkowski said. “And as I recall, Mr. Chairman (Dennis Allen), when I spoke with you several weeks ago on this, my opinion at that point and time — and I think it was yours too — that if we were going to make a judgement call here, and we were going to make a call wrong, we wanted to do it on the side of safety for our citizens.”

Czajkowski said everyone will have “plenty of time to second-judge everybody, and (we’ll have time to) second-judge ourselves and learn from this,” but for the time being the county needs “to continue the course.”

“We need to stay united and strong, and work together, and then like I said we can discuss what we could have done better later,” he said.

•Commissioner Kathy Pangle applauded the county’s efforts during the pandemic, and said those efforts are reflected in the count of positive cases within the county each day. St. Joseph County as of Tuesday evening has reported 25 positive cases and one death.

•Commissioner Ken Malone said the commission has a long road ahead in terms of budget changes as a result of this crisis. 

“We have to keep in mind that the State (of Michigan) always makes themselves whole first. That means that counties and cities and villages are going to suffer financially as they do that,” Malone said. “So we all need to keep that in mind as we’re going to have to suffer through some changes financially with budgets. It’s not a good thing to have to deal with but it is reality and we’re going to have to be very conscious of that.”

•Commissioner Al Balog, in response to Malone, said The Michigan Association of Counties is tracking the situation very closely in Washington D.C., and “by all indications counties across the U.S. are going to see some compensation for lost revenue, extra expenses, extra overtime expenses.”

“I’m going to remain confident that the federal government will do the right thing, even though no matter how you look at it, it’s taxpayers’ money. But I believe that we’re going to be OK, we’re certainly going to have some challenges — again, we don’t know how much and how soon — but I want to remain confident that we’re going to be taken care of.”

Alek Haak-Frost is the executive editor of Watershed Voice.