ASHLAND -- The Ashland County Health Department (ACHD) intends to spend its additional $200,000 in state funding on contact tracing and monitoring staff, equipment and supplies, according to Health Commissioner Heather Reffett.
On Nov. 12, Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state will designate $30 million to assist 113 health departments in fighting and preventing the spread of COVID-19. Each local health department is to be allotted $200,000 to use as needed.
DeWine also said contact tracers will be hired by the state as quickly as possible to “surge in” to different counties as needed.
“We’re saying today that help is on the way,” DeWine said.
The funding is distributed in the form of a reimbursable grant. Local health departments submit a budget allocating the $200,000, Reffett explained.
"Once the state approves the budget, we spend money from our local resources. We then submit receipts to the state and are reimbursed," she said.
The health department has been able to stay within its budget so far because of state funding, Reffett continued.
"At this time, there are enough funds to pay our contact tracers. Next year may see some funding challenges as we wait to see if the state will extend existing grant funding beyond the current year," Reffett said. "Without state funding, the health department would have a very difficult time paying for this much needed staff. We would have to be very creative in maintaining capacity with volunteers and partner organizations."
The ACHD currently has three "designated" contact tracers. However, there are also three nurses and two epidemiologists who also have a hand in contact tracing.
"This is a big change from our March staff. Before COVID-19, ACHD did have three staff who engaged in contact tracing for other communicable diseases, such as hepatitis and tuberculosis," Reffett said.
However, none of the three did this in a full-time capacity. They had other responsibilities such as immunizations and home visits.
The department is seeking additional contact tracing and nursing support, as COVID-19 cases surge in Ashland and across Ohio. Full-time hires and volunteers will be considered and can express interest by calling 419-282-4357.
Last Thursday, Ashland County was listed among 68 counties designated as "red" in Ohio's color-coded Public Health Advisory System.
In its latest update, the ACHD reported 768 total cases in Ashland County residents as of Monday, Nov. 16. Of those cases, 176 were active. An additional 418 residents were being monitored and quarantined for prevention and spread of the virus.
The number of recorded COVID-19 deaths on Monday was 21. This means that the cause of death was recorded as coronavirus specifically. At that time, one more death was "pending," or yet to be counted as the ACHD awaits death certificates before counting the death.
There are currently six people hospitalized. Seven "outbreaks" are being investigated and monitored in Ashland County at this time.
"COVID-19 cases will continue to surge unless there is drastic change in our behaviors," Reffett said. "It would require a true commitment to routinely wear a mask, avoid large gatherings and staying home when ill. It has to be a whole community effort."