he director of the Platte County Health Department says free COVID-19 testing in the county could end soon unless the department is able to get some of the federal CARES Act funding that was distributed to the county commission a few months ago.
The Platte County Commission has been in control of $12.2 million in federal CARES Act dollars that were passed on to the county through the state treasurer’s office, with distribution based on population.
The state treasurer early in the process asked the county to pass $6 million on to the City of Kansas City, since about half of Platte County’s population is made up of residents who live within the city limits of Kansas City. The county commission to this point has not passed any of the $12.2 million on to Kansas City or to any other public entity, such as the Platte County Health Department.
The Kansas City Star reported on Sunday that by early May, the federal government had delivered hundreds of millions of dollars to Missouri to fight the spread of the coronavirus. But three months later, at least 50 Missouri county health departments, including the Platte County Health Department, have not received a penny.
Bert Malone, a member of the Missouri Public Health Association, told the Star it was frustrating that money was allocated to county commissions, which in several cases have been in conflict with their health departments.
Malone told the Star that it appears some county commissions have made decisions based more on politics than public health.
That appears to be the case in Platte County. On May 4, the Platte County Commission hosted a nearly three hour meeting that largely turned into a roast of the county health department for having shut down non-essential businesses as part of COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
Apparently anger directed at the health department continues to come from the county commissioners.
“We recently met with our county commissioners to inquire about the CARES Act funding and were met with highly escalated emotions, accusations that WE have killed businesses, families, the economy and the tax base,” Mary Jo Vernon, the director of the Platte County Health Department, wrote on a state survey, the Star reported.
“We were accused of government overreach for the shut down orders early on and now for the masking mandate,” Vernon said.
According to the Star, health officials in Platte County report that on June 30 they sent the county commission an itemized spreadsheet of expenses and an estimate of costs through the end of the year.
On July 10, Vernon sent an email asking for an update.
Three days later, she attended a meeting and was told by the commission that they did not have any information.
Vernon said that the number of cases in Platte County is “dramatically increasing.”
On Monday of this week, the health department reported there have been 562 positive COVID-19 cases, with 331 of those occurring in the Platte County Health Department’s jurisdiction. The other 231 involving Platte County residents were reported to the Kansas City Health Department, since those residents reside in Kansas City within Platte County.
There have been 10 deaths from COVID-19 in Platte County and 33 hospitalizations.
The federal dollars would help continue free testing that will otherwise expire Aug. 15, Vernon said. It will also help with contact tracing and PPE, she told the Star.
“We are in need of the CARES Act monies,” Vernon said.
Ask by The Landmark this week if she could confirm the free testing will end Aug. 15 without the CARES Act money, Natalie Miller, public information specialist for the Platte County Health Department replied “we will be discussing future options with our board.”
The Star said Dagmar Wood, first district county commissioner, declined to comment for the article and the other two commissioners, Ron Schieber and John Elliott, did not respond to inquiries.
To read the entire article that was in the Sunday Star go to www.kansascity.com/news/coronavirus/article244568372.html
LOCAL POSITIVITY RATE
Dan Luebbert, deputy director of the Platte County Health Department, gave The Landmark an updated analysis of the current state of COVID-19 in the county.
“Platte County has added more cases in July than during the first four months of the pandemic. The seven-day moving average percent positivity rate is one of the measures we use to determine the prevalence of the virus in the county. A sustained rate below five percent indicates that the virus is relatively well-controlled in the community. Obviously, we would like to see a sustained near-zero percent positivity rate. We peaked at about 18% on July 19. More recently, the rate has been around 10-12%,” Luebbert remarked.
County health officials on Tuesday afternoon confirmed the seven day moving average percent positivity rate as of Aug. 3 is 12.8%.
“If folks continue to wear face coverings and physically distance, we expect to see the positivity rate continue to drop. When the rate stays low for an extended period of time, then we can safely return to in-person learning (for local schools). Everyone has to do their part. It’s our civic duty. This is no time for politics. Viruses don’t care if you’re left-leaning or right-leaning. They’re just seeking a host,” he added