Delaware General Health District: COVID-19 costs skyrocketing as cases rise

Delaware council mulls $100,000 outlay for county agency

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has sent operating costs skyrocketing for the Delaware General Health District.

After 75 positive cases in April, health district commissioner Shelia Hiddleson said the district was in daily contact with each person who had tested positive and was still at home.

Delaware General Health District

Those not in a high-risk category might be asked to call the health district daily if the number of new cases surges in high numbers, she said at the time.

As of Nov. 16, the health district had reported 3,364 total cases.

The health district has responded by accelerating its operations, said preventive-health director Adam Howard.

Before the pandemic, the district had about five people working full time on infectious disease, he said.

"Today, we have 42 staff members working on COVID-19. To put this in perspective, during all of the year 2019, the health district investigated 1,441 infectious diseases and issued two quarantines-isolations. For COVID-19 alone in 2020, the health district has investigated and issued over 7,500 COVID-19 quarantines-isolations," Howard said.

Delaware City Council on Nov. 9 discussed a proposed second disbursement of funds the city had received in the third round of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, including $100,000 for the health district.

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In a letter to the city, Hiddleson said even after receiving $965,848 in emergency-response funds from the Ohio Department of Health, "the total expenses to the district without additional funding will be almost $850,000."

Although the ODH is in contact with all local health districts about their expenses, "as of this date there have been no further discussions about any funding that is coming to support the ongoing COVID-19 emergency response," Hiddleson wrote.

After the meeting, she said the $850,000 "represents payroll expenses through Oct. 1 that have not been paid through any other grant source, plus some items that we will need as the vaccine becomes available."

Those items will include a "points of dispensing" trailer, she said.

Howard said such a trailer could allow a COVID-19 vaccine to be distributed at drive-thru clinics while maintaining safe distancing.

The district has been using drive-thru clinics for influenza vaccines. Howard said they work well but require such equipment as cones, signs and generators, in addition to the normal refrigeration, vaccine and typical clinic supplies. Such clinics will function more efficiently with a trailer to store and transport the items, he said.

For most of the weeks the state has used its Ohio Public Health Advisory System, the health district has avoided red alert status.

"​The Delaware County community has been doing a great job practicing safety measures to protect public health," Howard said.

"This number, unfortunately, has been on the rise since Oct. 1," he said, and as of Nov. 16, the district and most of Ohio were on red alert status.

"We are seeing a concerning number of new cases every day. The health district is doing everything in our power to contain the spread of this disease, including reassigning many staff to help with this surge, but we can't do it without everyone's help in the community." Howard said.

Weather is playing a role in the current surge, he said.

"One factor is that it's getting colder out, which means people congregate indoors. A prolonged period of time indoors increases the chance of spread as more and more infectious droplets build up in the enclosed environment. Another factor is people mistaking the symptoms as a cold or allergies. ... COVID-19 symptoms include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle/body aches, headache, new loss of taste/smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea."

What he called COVID fatigue also is a factor.

"We have been at this for 11 months. Folks are tired, and I completely understand being tired. I'm tired, and so are all of our incredibly dedicated staff, but now is not the time to give up,” he said. “Now is the time to dig in and stay the course. We are told a vaccine is coming, and we could be holding mass vaccination clinics in the spring. ... We all need to do everything we can to prevent as many infections as possible until the vaccine becomes available.”

He urged everyone to practice social distancing and wear masks.

"Get food from your favorite restaurant, but consider getting takeout instead of dine-in. Visit with friends, but limit the amount of friends you visit in a week. When you do visit, stay outside or open windows, leave your masks on, and social distance. ... If you do have COVID-19, cooperate with public health officials. If you are uncooperative or not truthful you are putting your friends, your family and your community at risk."

Council is expected to discuss and possibly vote on the measure Nov. 23.

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