With only nine weeks remaining in the year, several will be happy to put 2020 behind them, closing the chapter that may be one of the most haunting years some have seen in their lifetime. While some have recovered from the financial and emotional tolls COVID-19 brought forth, the damage for others may remain forever, especially as COVID cases continue to rise.
Businesses that were forced to close and some that never reopened along with the high unemployment rate sent several into a financial crisis. A pandemic that has not only affected individual households, but also businesses across the board with loss of sales as the government worked to find a financial solution to aid all.
The U.S. Congress passed a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act known as the CARES Act. The CARES Act was signed into law on March 27 following the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic across the United States. Grant payments through the CARES Act are trickling in and while some are getting the financial relief they sought after, others are left wondering if they have been forgotten.
Throughout the pandemic most have become familiar with our local public health office as the task handling of local COVID cases became their primary responsibility. Beyond home health care and their regular healthcare duties, keeping the community COVID aware through contract tracing, testing and updating positive numbers daily fell into their laps.
While over half the public health offices in the State of Iowa have given up COVID handling at the local level, the Wayne County Public Health Office has been committed to working extra hours in an effort to slow the spread in our community. Wayne County along with Decatur County Public Health Offices are working feverishly with contact tracing of positive individuals with positive case numbers sitting below 150 as of October 29. Meanwhile bordering counties Appanoose and Lucas are seeing numbers increase continually since turning over their COVID handling to the state, going beyond 200 positive cases as of October 29.
As employees within public health offices are growing weary and tired, working many hours into the evenings and weekends beyond their contracted obligations, finance issues are also growing. While the State of Iowa has received billions in federal COVID-19 funds, some public health offices are still wondering where their help may be to continue working the level they have been doing the last seven months.
In the Wayne County Board of Health meeting held on October 21, much discussion took place regarding how the $81,000 the county would be receiving for COVID would be distributed. Wayne County Public Health Administrator Shelley Bickel along with Emergency Management Director Bill Byrns worked together to apply for the grant however having been approved for the money doesn’t solidify it would be available for only those two offices.
Public Health offices are county entities therefore the Board of Supervisors control the money within the county. As members of the Board of Health discussed possibilities of where the money may go, Bickel urged the board to consider how the money could positively impact the public health office and allow them to continue working at the same level.
Bickel acknowledged her as well as her employees are being paid over any weeks where 40 hours are worked, however she was only contracted for 24 hours while another staff member was contracted for only 32 hours.
From day one when Governor Kim Reynolds spoke to Iowans in her daily press conferences alongside Medical Director Dr. Caitlyn Pedati from the Iowa Department of Public Health, it was known the important role public health was providing through the COVID pandemic. It was evident her role was acknowledged when Dr. Pedati received a 45 percent wage increase that began on July 1 as well as when she received $55,000 in overtime pay from March through early July.
Aid is being distributed across the state to many healthcare facilities including hospitals along with Medicare advances being given in the amount of nearly $1 billion as well.
With hospitals becoming more overwhelmed by COVID patients on a daily basis, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been distributing relief payments in an effort to aid Iowa health care providers. The CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act made these funds available during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the local level, the Wayne County Hospital received $4,315,586.24 and was one of 77 hospitals to receive a Medicare advance in the amount of $4,677,620. In the two previous Board of Health meetings, Dr. Joel A. Wells acknowledged COVID is being treated within the hospital on a more frequent basis weekly and daily as numbers rise.
Beyond aid for healthcare facilities, funds are being distributed statewide in an effort to help others impacted financially from COVID. Schools are receiving funds that allows them to offer internet services to those that have previously been without in their homes should classes be forced to move online. Wayne Community School received from Federal Cares $132,202. Reynolds designated $91 million for technology upgrades within the state while the Iowa Department of Education has designated $115 million at this time.
When businesses were forced to shut down, many wondered how they would ever recover. Reynolds allocated $99 million to aid small businesses with relief grants, however many have voiced frustrations over those allocations that some never would see after being denied following the application process.
Just recently on October 26, Reynolds announced there would be a relief program for local county fairs. The program was set up to provide short-term relief in the amount of $6 million from the federal CARES Act.
County fairs that are able to show financial loss through the COVID-19 pandemic could apply for one of the three funding level grants of $25,000, $50,000 or $75,000.
It is doubtful any Iowan would be able to claim COVID hasn’t negatively impacted their lives in one way or another. Whether it be from unemployment and loss of income, cancellations or closures of businesses, events or activities, higher cost of doing business, jobs requiring a larger workload and beyond, the pandemic is wreaking havoc on lives and it isn’t over yet.
Some are receiving the help needed while others are still wondering if and when help will ever come. The answer on how the money is being distributed is one no one can seem to answer. It is however evident by the recent mishandling of $21 million CARES Act funds by Reynolds, the state auditor’s office is watching to ensure it is being properly used for COVID related expenses only that can be proven.
Editor's note: Shortly after publication of this article, a regular meeting was held by the Wayne County Board of Supervisors where Supervisors Dave Dotts and Don Seams voted in favor of continuing their support for Wayne County Public Health financially. Whether it be through the CARES Act funds or budget amendments, Dotts and Seams agreed keeping COVID contact tracing at the local level was imperative at this time. Supervisor Tom Swearingin was not in attendance at this meeting therefore he was unavailable for the vote. Please see next week's Times-Republican for the full story from the meeting.