Gila County could get more than $19 million in COVID-19 funds when all is said and done.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) brings $10.5 million to the county, with another $8.6 million going to the health and emergency management department. Approximately $3.1 came from the CARES Act and $5.5 million from the American Rescue Plan. Most of the money is for dealing with COVID-19 and its many repercussions, but some have only a few strings attached.

The Gila County Board of Supervisors met June 29 with Patty Power of Bose Public Affairs Group for an overview of the ARPA. Power and Bose lobby for the county in Washington, D.C. The supervisors and county management must have additional meetings to decide how the funds are allocated. (See separate story on ARPA money.)

COVID-19 money received (or to be received shortly) by the health and emergency management department is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, and the Arizona Department of Health Services. The funds are from a variety of grants that must be used in one, two or three years. The health and emergency management department can also use some of the ARPA money.

Michael O’Driscoll, director of the department, and his deputy Josh Beck, who oversees emergency management, talked with the Roundup about the money coming to the county’s health services.

About $3.8 million coming to the health department is allocated to different programs. Roughly $2.5 million is for health literacy; $700,000 is for health disparity; and $600,000 is for health equity.

The ARPA funds targeted to address health equity and health disparity issues in Gila County is directed to unserved and underserved populations. Beck said the state has designated the entire county as unserved and underserved, primarily based on the fact that all its school districts have such high numbers of students qualifying for free and reduced food programs, as well as for the amount of rural remote population we have. He said he also sees the unserved and underserved as those 65 and older living in remote areas.

Addressing the issues of health equity and health disparity could bring more clinics to remote areas, along with health education opportunities. “By improving overall health we are also making a difference for vulnerable populations in regard to COVID,” O’Driscoll said.

Another $2.571 million of the ARPA money coming to the county includes $1.75 million for mini grants to nonprofits that have assisted in the county’s COVID-19 fight, among these are senior centers and health care, fire and emergency responders, and other community-based organizations. O’Driscoll said once the details are worked out, the funds should go out between mid and late October.

Due to the many requirements of the COVID grants it has received, the health and emergency management department has had to contract with providers both inside and outside the county. The department has struggled to hire for open positions with only a few local applicants for openings it has posted during COVID; most of those individuals have been from the Globe and Miami areas. Beck said they have hired three great staff from the Payson area, but no one from the area has applied for the most recent openings.

Other issues

O’Driscoll said the county does about 150 COVID tests per week and area hospitals generally do more than that. He said the county is seeing 11 to 18 positive tests per week.

With the Delta variant of COVID-19 on the rise, Gila County Public Health is offering free COVID-19 tests. It conducts in house serology, PCR, and antigen tests. It provides the results in 10 to 15 minutes for each test. To make an appointment today please call 928-200-7668, Payson; 928-961-1284, Globe.

Still, the county’s vaccination rate is good — overall 50.6% of all residents 12 and older have had at least one dose of the vaccination; 45.8% have had two doses; and 85.4% of those 65 and older have had at least one dose. However, very few 12- to 18-year-olds are vaccinated. O’Driscoll said only 1,002 had one dose of the vaccine as of Friday, July 16.

The department staff providing the vaccines for COVID-19 will help with flu vaccines in the fall. Experts are saying there is a potential for increased flu cases this year.

“Since there is no mask mandate anywhere we are expecting a big flu season, so we are preparing and planning for that now,” O’Driscoll said. The county will order its flu vaccines in September and plans to have plenty available for anyone that wants one, he said.

Contact the reporter at tmcquerrey@payson.com

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