Health department funding

Director of Health Jodie Pond answers questions at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pond hopes that part of the $50 million Wyoming was just awarded for testing and contact tracing trickles down to Teton County.

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Wyoming is receiving a windfall for the public health effort to contain the coronavirus. Whether that trickles down to Teton County remains to be seen.

The $50.4 million for Wyoming will be given to the Wyoming Department of Health. Public health officials hope the money will then be distributed at the county and local level.

“There’s no way the state lab needs to keep $50 million,” Teton County Director of Health Jodie Pond said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced in a press release Tuesday that $10.25 billion will be distributed to states as part of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention effort called the Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Prevention and Control of Emerging Infectious Diseases program.

“As the nation cautiously begins the phased approach to reopening, this considerable investment in expanding both testing and contact tracing capacity for states, localities, territories and tribal communities is essential,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said in a statement.

The money is part of the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. It will help states “develop, purchase, administer, process, and analyze COVID-19 tests, conduct surveillance, trace contacts, and related activities,” the release said.

Until the Health and Human Services announcement Tuesday there had been a dearth of funding for public health in the various federal relief bills. Most citizens received a $1,200 stimulus check, and billions of dollars have flowed to the private sector to shore up businesses.

Public health departments, however, have shouldered much of the financial burden for testing and contact tracing. So far they haven’t seen the same kind of support.

“We received $100,000 from CDC crisis funding, but beyond that have not received any money from relief funding,” Pond said.

The Community Foundation of Jackson Hole gave the Health Department a $50,000 grant to expand testing through a voucher system, but Pond said she still needs nearly $400,000 to cover the contact tracing infrastructure she wants to put in place. Coronavirus response has taken her staff off their normal jobs, but as early as next week restaurant inspections and environmental health services need to resume.

That will hamper the Health Department’s ability to test and trace positive cases, unless Pond can hire the seven people she needs. She said she has received resumes of people she would hire, if she had the money.

It appears that the Wyoming Department of Health has local departments in mind. Since the funding was announced Tuesday, spokeswoman Kim Deti wrote in an email that the department hadn’t made a plan for disbursement to local officials because it had not yet been given the details for what the grant will cover.

“We will, of course, work closely with the counties to help use funding in the best way to help detect cases and prevent further transmission,” she wrote.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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