Commissioners designate funds for COVID testing
The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners dedicated $150,000 toward expanded COVID-19 testing at its meeting Wednesday, July 1.
Public Health Director Michael Baker said he would like to set up a drive-through testing site, likely at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, to make sure tests are available for the whole community.
"Our limitation still remains the availability of testing supplies," Baker told the commissioners.
He said the demand for COVID-19 testing has decreased, possibly because people are afraid of being required to isolate themselves.
Jefferson County Emergency Medical Services volunteered to help with the project, but medical providers aren't sure they'll be available, Baker said.
"With the additional funds, the best model would probably be to hire a person to run that, a clinic nurse," Baker said, and have JCEMS manage it and work with Emergency Manager David Pond on logistics.
Baker would like to see a random program to monitor the spread of COVID-19 countywide, and he said a drive-through would get close.
Tests would be available for essential workers and could be expanded to those who work in grocery stores, schools and more.
"We could get going almost right away," Baker said.
Commissioner Wayne Fording asked if the county could use a rapid test, which Mosaic Medical has equipment for.
But Baker said the swabs are hard to come by and are only being used for underserved and high-priority cases.
Baker added that the Public Health Department would not spend the funds just because they were available but would be a good steward of them.
Fording made the motion to allocate the funds and give County Administrator Jeff Rasmussen authority to sign procurements and contracts. Mae Huston and President Kelly Simmelink voted yes, making passage unanimous.
Fording also asked Baker about technology to help Public Health staff who are tracing the spread of the virus.
The department started using a statewide database, Baker said. Rasmussen was helping to get laptops for nurses and new contact tracers, and the department was set to hire more people.
"That contact tracing is what's really bogging down the entire system," Baker said.
When someone tests positive for COVID-19, tracers have to contact everyone that person identifies as having been around. That's been between three and 30 people, Baker said.
All of those people have to be checked in with daily. For nearly half, that's a simple text message script going through symptoms and the person's temperature.
"If they need medical service, then we work with a medical provider," Baker said.
"Keep us informed of what you need, and we'll support you on that," Fording said.
He made a motion to designate $20,000 of CARES Act funds for technology for the Public Health Department, and Huston seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.
Rasmussen said the county has also purchased a disinfecting fogger and signed off on two others.
And Treasurer Brandie McNamee recommended spending $19,000 on new modules for the county's accounting software. She said grant funds are coming from a variety of sources, and the software would make the Finance Department's job more efficient.
Huston moved to authorize the purchase, and Fording seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.
The commissioners also decided to reopen county buildings to the public, with restricted access to some offices. Visitors will be required to wear masks, and some areas are adding plexiglass shields.
Huston said she appreciates that county staff continue to demonstrate they are available to serve, but that they do so respectfully.
The commissioners took their meeting to the Jefferson County Correctional Facility for their annual inspection of the facility.
Sheriff Jim Adkins showed the commissioners improvements, including more cameras, safety measures to prevent inmate suicides and how the jail is isolating new inmates to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
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