At its Sept. 7 meeting, the Gila County Board of Supervisors approved several items to continue the county’s fight against COVID-19.

The most significant of these was the award of a $2.57 million contract for Community Alliance Consulting for project management.

Gila County applied for the grant, which requires no matching funds. This sum includes $1.75 million in mini-grants for local Gila County organizations.

The major objectives of the grant are to improve organizational and individual health literacy and connect with vulnerable populations through established partnerships that include health care, fire and emergency responders, senior centers, and other community-based organizations.

Amendments approved

The supervisors approved an amendment to an IGA with the Arizona Department of Health Services to allocate $1.6 million for COVID-19 expanded response capabilities.

According to Michael O’Driscoll, director of the county Health and Emergency Management Department, Gila County will leverage and build upon the existing public health infrastructure in the coordination of disease investigation and contact tracing.

The primary goals will be to create a comprehensive disease investigation, detection, surveillance, and rapid response section to the Health Emergency Operations Center. The department’s underlying objectives will be to use the funding for expanded testing, contact tracing, and increase community prevention.

Gila County will support expanded testing capacity for COVID-19, including the availability and access to free and low-cost testing; and establish a SARS-CoV-2 testing program. The funds will establish contact tracing and disease surveillance programs. Additionally, the Health Department will support community-based COVID-19 related prevention efforts. This will be through education messages that will include information about symptoms, testing blitz locations, local hotline information, COVID support resources, and other COVID FAQs.

Gila County currently has one full-time Communicable Disease Specialist (CDS) specifically trained for and funded with CDC public health emergency preparedness dollars. The CDC COVID-19 funding has afforded an increase to three CDS positions, and three contact tracers.

“Due to funding issues, we have still been unable to fund multiple critical positions, and have pressed our staff to the point of exertion while ignoring many of the other essential public health services to our Gila County communities,” he said.

The amendment to the IGA will allow Gila County to continue to provide comprehensive disease investigations, contact tracing, data collection and sharing, mass vaccinations, and public health education through February 2022.

The amendment approved Sept. 7 increases the grant award by $725,797 for vaccine equity to enhance COVID-19 vaccination efforts in underserved communities.

This funding allocation will sustain the increased staffing that was brought on to help respond to COVID-19 through May 2023. These additional surge positions would otherwise be returned to their prior funding, or released from employment, as the county cannot fund the additional positions as of January/February 2022. This would place the Gila County community back at a larger risk of transmission, lack of contact tracing, and partner coordination and we would effectively lose the trained and local workforce that we have implemented to flex during low and high case transmission, he said.

The primary goals will be to sustain the rapid response team and enhance our ability to test a large enough section of the county population each month to develop continuous real-time data representing COVID-19 community spread, and tracking the county’s metrics with antibodies.

Contact the reporter at tmcquerrey@payson.com

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