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Local

Kane OKs $8.34M allocation to Health Dept. for coronavirus work

Jeffers: 'Not just contact tracing, it’s about mitigation, containment and control'

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

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GENEVA – The Kane County Board approved allocating $8.34 million to the Health Department Tuesday to enable it to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Health Department Director Barbara Jeffers had asked for $12.9 million from the county’s share of the federal coronavirus relief funds, but board members were reluctant to give her the full amount she requested.

Board member Drew Frasz, R-Elburn, said one of the goals of today’s meeting was to take some decisive action and things of an emergency basis.

“That said, I am reluctant to take 20% of the county’s (share of federal coronavirus relief) funds and allocate them today,” Frasz said. “I do appreciate Ms. Jeffers’ presentation and the predicament she and her staff are in.”

Instead, Frasz said recommended allotting $5.6 million needed for contact tracing, and an additional $2.4 million to get through the next 30 days – which board members agreed to.

The county divided up the $92.9 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds with 55% going to the county for its needs and 45% to be granted to municipalities for their needs.

“The funding we are requesting is not just contact tracing, it’s about mitigation, containment and control. We have not stopped working on this. We have to build capacity in our contact tracing. That does not happen overnight,” Jeffers said.

“We are here today because there is a public health pandemic,” Jeffers said. “That is what the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act was afforded because this country recognized that we did not have the resources or the capacity to deal with the pandemic that has been within our country as well as the world that had not seen a pandemic for 100 years.”

With its 60 employees, Jeffers said responding to the pandemic became overwhelming, requiring people to work seven days a week.

In particular, they have 24 hours to contact each person who tests positive for the coronavirus to get them to understand they are in quarantine to help stop the virus’s spread.

She has relied on volunteers– who come and go as they can – and she has used some of the court staff to assist when they have down time.

“To manage this was overwhelming for our employees and we continue to be overwhelmed by 8,000 cases-plus,” Jeffers said.

“The whole goal of this is 24-hour turnaround. If you don’t catch me in 24 hours, I could have the potential in a week of infecting 29 people. And those 29 people – multiply them by 29,” Jeffers said. “This is such an enormous task for any health department, even if we had capacity of twice of what we have. … And then we have to coordinate with all our partners – not just our hospitals, our health care, but our schools.”

Their job is also mitigation – promoting hand washing, social distancing – getting the guidance and the rules out to the public – even to the point of making their own posters because they could not find a reputable company to make them, Jeffers said.

“We have done all of this in-house with our print shop,” Jeffers said. “We have not been able to make any public service announcements on a larger scale.”

Aside from contact tracing, they are trying to aid homeless people.

“We have a whole new set of homeless people,” Jeffers said. "They have lost their homes because they are losing their job. They are living in their cars. They are still walking out in the street. That population has to be addressed.”

The Health Department is also responsible for working with nursing homes on their infection control plans.

“You are reading that across the country, (nursing home) outbreaks are happening and lives are lost. These are people. These are not numbers. These are people,” Jeffers said.

“We control by reducing the number of positives that are tested. Getting our community tested. People are under a lot of false assumptions that, ‘If I am not symptomatic, I am not contagious.’ … Not having symptoms does not mean you are not going to viral shed. … That can spread quite rapidly in families and offices. And then when we have that occurring, that puts a tremendous burden on our hospitals.”

If hospitals are overrun with COVID-19 cases, it is difficult for them to address other critical health care needs, Jeffers said.The County Board also approved the Kane Coronavirus CARES Act Allocation Committee’s recommendation to have the State’s Attorney’s Office be the central point where government entities’ applications, documentation and intergovernmental agreements for virus relief funds are received.

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