COVID and school

The county is putting in place mechanisms to help students, parents and schools deal with future COVID-19 problems. To date, few of those ages 12 to 18 have been vaccinated.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts have touched the lives of all Gila County residents.

Underserved communities and populations have been disproportionately placed at higher risk by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those individuals in rural, medically underserved, and/or racial and ethnic minority groups, said Michael O’Driscoll, director of the Gila County Health and Emergency Management Department. These groups are at higher risk of exposure, infection, hospitalization, and mortality. Coupled with known disproportionate rates of chronic diseases, this has increased the severity of COVID-19 infections. These populations also experience challenges in accessing testing, treatment, and vaccinations against COVID-19.

The Gila County Board of Supervisors was asked Aug. 3 by its Health and Emergency Management Department to approve an intergovernmental agreement with the Arizona Department of Health Services for $567,203 to support the implementation of the four (4) overarching strategies identified by the CDC:

1. Expand existing and/or develop new mitigation and prevention resources and services to reduce COVID-19 related disparities among populations at higher risk and that are underserved;

2. Increase/improve data collection and reporting for populations experiencing a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 infection, severe illness, and death to guide the response to the COVID-19 pandemic;

3. Build, leverage, and expand infrastructure support for COVID-19 prevention and control among populations that are at higher risk and underserved; and/or;

4. Mobilize partners and collaborators to advance health equity and address social determinants of health as they relate to COVID-19 health disparities among populations at higher risk and that are underserved.

“With this funding, we will be creating a department for health equity that includes dedicated staff to support these efforts. Additionally, the Gila County Health Improvement Plan recognizes health equity as the foundation of improving health in Gila County and is one of five health priorities. This funding is intended to evaluate and address these issues,” said O’Driscoll.

A second request for expending COVID-19 money was approved to have an outside contractor provide necessary services to children, their families and schools due to required isolation to keep the disease from spreading. The program — COVID-19 School Wraparound Support Services — is for $828,927.

The funds are to complement, not duplicate, existing funding previously provided. The project aims to leverage and build upon existing public health infrastructure that emphasizes the coordination and critical integration of disease investigation, epidemiology, contact tracing, and electronic health information systems in order to maximize the public health impact of available resources.

The primary goals will be: 1) to use our close relationship with Gila County schools to encourage participation in the Pooled Testing program offered by ADHS in collaboration with Ginkgo Bioworks; 2) to enhance disease investigation procedures by referring positive school cases to the wraparound services to support abilities to successfully quarantine/isolate during the COVID-19 experience.

The fund is available for use from Aug. 1, 2021 through May 31, 2022.

Approval of the request allows Gila County Public Health to coordinate with Gila County Schools to encourage participation in pooled testing programs. The staff and a selected consultant will promote pooled testing benefits and educate families on how this, along with other mitigation efforts, is beneficial to everyone in keeping schools open and in-person.

For those students, staff, or teachers that test positive, the consultant shall provide social support services during isolation and quarantine, including, but not limited to, self-quarantine home kits, wrap-around services, and alternative living arrangements, if necessary.

O’Driscoll also asked the BOS on Aug. 3 to approve a lease between the Globe Marketplace, L.P. and Gila County Health Division. The space to be leased is approximately 1,950 square feet and costs $2,834 per month from Aug. 10, 2021, through Aug. 9, 2026. The funds are 100% budgeted with public health prevention grant funds through the Tobacco-Free Environments, Teen Pregnancy Prevention, Maternal and Child Health, RX overdose and misuse, Health in all Policies Initiative, Public Health Infrastructure, and Health Equity and Health Disparity grants.

Due to the declared COVID-19 pandemic, additional grant funding from the American Rescue Plan, and by bringing previously contracted work in-house with local staff, the Central Heights Public Health complex cannot meet the current and future staffing levels of grant-supported staff, O’Driscoll told the BOS.

With the lease, the intention of Gila County Public Health is to move the 10 personnel of the public health prevention staff to the property at Cobre Valley Plaza, 2250 Highway 60/70, Suite I, Globe.

“This move will improve cohesion with the health prevention team, help to prevent commingling of grant funds, and free up space in our county emergency operations center for responding to current and future emergencies,” he said.

Adding, the space allows the health prevention team to continue to meet the needs of the community by allowing the prevention staff to office in one location, as well as freeing up the Emergency Operations Center for emergency management and disaster-related response.

Contact the reporter at tmcquerrey@payson.com

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