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Local

Kane health director, sheriff describe unsustainable conditions under COVID-19

Jeffers: 'We have no way to contact 1,000 people'

The Kane County Health Department in Aurora.
The Kane County Health Department in Aurora.

GENEVA – Kane County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Jeffers described a situation where she would be notified at 11 p.m. of a coronavirus-positive person being released from the hospital.

“When it first started, I was required to issue isolation orders within 24 hours,” Jeffers said, speaking to the Executive Committee a special meeting Friday. “They would call my staff. They came to my house. I had to sign orders, call the State’s Attorney. My staff then had to go back to the office … They would go in, log-in get the necessary documents, drive to the person’s house. … Get your signature so you understood now you are quarantined.’”

The 2 1/2 hour special meeting picked up where the regular Executive Committee left off on Wednesday, when the remote platform for the meeting failed and it had to be canceled.

The committee is looking at how to split the $92.3 million in federal coronavirus relief funds with local municipalities, unincorporated areas and the county itself.

The current recommendation is for 45% to be allocated to municipalities and 55% to the county. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Allocation Committee will meet at 2 p.m. Monday to decided who gets what. Its recommendations will go to the County Board meeting at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday for final action.

Jeffers, Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain, and Brian Pollack, representing the Kane County Clerk’s Office, and Information Technology Director Roger Fahnestock each discussed the impact of the COVID-19 virus on their departments and their cost needs.

1,000 new cases of COVID-19

For Jeffers, tracking people down in the early days of the virus would go on seven days a week for two weeks. It finally got better when Fahnestock ramped up the technology so Jeffers could access forms digitally, doing it all electronically, safely and not violating health privacy laws.

But Jeffers said her office was notified Thursday of 1,000 new coronavirus cases in Kane County.

The state recommends a staffing of 30 contact tracers per 100,000 persons, so that would mean 160 tracers, Jeffers said.

“We have no way to contact 1,000 people,” Jeffers said. “With our current workforce, we could not manage that.”

Ultimately, Jeffers requested more than $12 million for costs which includes $5.6 million for hiring an outside contractor to do contact tracing through June 2021.

“Illinois is not going to stop contact tracing,” Jeffers said. “If you are asymptomatic, it does not mean you do not do what is called a ‘viral shed.’ You do not have to be symptomatic to pass this virus on. That is the danger of being asymptomatic. You’re going through daily life thinking everything’s OK and you’re passing it on to every single person you come in contact with.”

IT, public safety needs

Fahnestock said the county needs $19.3 million in total infrastructure needs for more fiber optic network diversity and disaster preparedness, systems and server preparedness, radio and telecommunications and fiber optic network for underserved areas.

Hain described a situation where the office has a radio system that is not modern, but functional.

“When Covid hit in March, a switch flipped,” Hain said. “As we’ve talked about, the sheriff’s office rolled into a public health role.”

Kane County has 8,000 addresses where people who tested positive for the coronavirus live.

That information is passed on to first responders and general calls for service, Hain said.

They use a code that is now public because the office does not have a system modern enough to encrypt it from people who monitor calls on Kane County Emergency Communications, or KaneComm.

“What that switch flipped in March is a violation of federal HIPPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) law,” Hain said. “So we are now we’re broadcasting people’s private health information on our airwaves. There is no way for us to encrypt this radio platform that we’re on.”

Hain recommended buying a $5 million Motorola StarCom system that can be implemented this year and comply with HIPPAA.

Of that, $4 million would be capital, the rest user fees and personnel costs as KaneComm would have to hire three more employees.

Board member William Lenert, R-Sugar Grove, urged support for this purchase.

“We need to take care of this now, not only for a public safety standpoint, but from a liability standpoint,” Lenert said. “All of these people who are now being exposed due to a non-encrypted program – this is public knowledge. And we have liability exposure there.”

As chairman of the Judicial Public Safety Committee, Lenert said, “I think this is the right way to spend some of our money in the county.”

Running an election during a pandemic

Pollack, representing the clerk’s office, described issues that would be faced in running a general election on Nov. 3.

“Recruiting and training our judges, preparing our voting equipment, finding polling places, voter registration It’s not just flip a switch one day and we have an election,” Pollack said.

“Months of planning go into this and these things have been affected pretty much all year,” Pollack said. “Our election judges and our staff are front-line employees. They are the ones that are there when the public comes in to vote, so we need to protect them like we protect other front-line employees.”

Pollack they need 1,500 election judges.

“You may be hearing a push about vote by mail. We still have Election Day. We still have early voting and we still have Election Day voting. We have to prepare for all of these things,” Pollack said. “Nothing was wiped away. We haven't run the same election we plan to run, now in terms of with Covid and with additional vote by mail.”

The Clerk’s Office estimated they need to prepare for 75,000 to 100,000 vote by mail ballots and will need an additional $150,000 for postage.

In addition, the Clerk’s Office has incurred more than $100,000 in costs due to the virus; the office will need an additional $250,000 for protective equipment at polling places for disinfecting, scanning thermometers and creating a separate space for voters with high fevers to vote; $5,000 more for additional judges and staff time; $10,000 for two to three drop boxes for ballots; $525,000 for an automatic mail sorter; $500,000 for an inserter that assembles hundreds of ballots per minute rather than several an hour when done by hand; and $111,000 for printing, folding and assembling postage for vote by mail for approximately 211,000 registered voters, documents show.

The Clerk’s Office is still waiting on estimates for office adaptation with gloves, sanitizers, Plexiglas dividers and masks, documents show.

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