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COVID-19 Updates Discussed During Supervisor Meeting

May 5, 2020
By Joseph Schany , Emmetsburg News

by Joseph Schany

"Palo Alto County has zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 so everybody's doing a good job with their social distancing and their hygiene, and it's reflective in the fact that we are still at zero."

In his weekly COVID-19 update during the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors conference call on Tuesday morning, Mark Hunefeld, Palo Alto County Emergency Management, highlighted the small number of confirmed cases throughout northwest Iowa, but pointed out those numbers may increase due to the warmer weather.

"The numbers are still low but we expect a little bit of an uptick. We expect more cases to come up as people start coming out for the summer and come back to their summer homes."

On Monday, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a new proclamation continuing the State Public Health Emergency Declaration until May 27, but loosening measures in 77 Iowa counties, including Palo Alto County, to permit restaurants, fitness centers, malls, libraries, race tracks, and certain other retail establishments to reopen in a limited fashion with public health measures in place. In addition, the proclamation lifts the restriction on religious and spiritual gatherings so long as churches and other gathering hosts implement reasonable public health measures.

"The new proclamation signed yesterday by the governor runs from May 1 until May 15," confirmed Hunefeld, "and allows some establishments to open up with rules - social distancing being the big thing."

Hunefeld was asked about the current stock of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

"Our supplies are doing pretty good," he said. "The stocks are maintained, but we just got another notification on Sunday that, as our cases in Iowa continue to grow, those supplies will become more and more difficult to get from the state. As I've been doing every week, I'm reaching out to the long-term care facilities and letting them know that they need to be looking at multiple vendors to get their supplies."

Donations for supplies like masks and gowns are also still being accepted, with patterns and details from the Iowa Department of Public Health available online.

Along with the update on PPE, Hunefeld also discussed the recent change at Palo Alto County Health System (PACHS) with the resignation of Brett Antczak, PACHS CEO and Incident Commander.

"I don't see any interruptions in services or anything like that," assured Hunefeld. "As with any incident, if somebody drops out, somebody has to step in and take their place so it doesn't matter if its an illness or resignation. Thats the way the incident command system is set up and that's why it works so well. I will have more details after my meeting later this morning."

Supervisor Linus Solberg said, "At your meeting, you probably better tell them to start ramping up because we've got people hiring individuals as laborers out of packing plants that have closed."

In response, Hunefeld offered, "You know what, here is one thing I would like to leave the group with. Things are continuing to change. We are going to have to change our methods on the way we do things. I don't have all the answers but I know we are going to have to learn how to live with this even though we don't like it. This is just personal but I just don't see any way around it. If COVID doesn't go away and we don't have a vaccine, we are going to have to learn how to live with this as best we can."

Upon Hunefeld offering to field questions, Supervisor Craig Merrill asked, "If a person has a parent in a different part of the state and that parent is in failing health and the person wants to go see the parent but is worried about transferring COVID, can the person be tested for COVID so they can go see the parent?"

"I don't know for sure but I would say no," responded Hunefeld. "Our testing capabilities are still limited and we want to make sure we are using those for people that might have it."

Board Chair Roger Faulstick asked, "How reliable are the tests we have?"

Laughing, Hunefeld said, "About the same as them all. I was just listening to the news yesterday where it has a 60 to 90 percent success rate. 60% sounds like an F to me as compared to a 90% which would be more like a B so I'm not sure what the answer to that is."

"Is that going to improve?" asked Faulstick.

"I'm sure it will over time as they continue to learn more about this stuff," responded Hunefeld.

Before the call was ended with Hunefeld, Palo Alto County Auditor Carmen Moser and Robin Jamison, Treasurer, walked him through some of the updates the courthouse is making to safeguard against COVID-19.

"Here in the courthouse, we got together and started to discuss how we are going to start gradually allowing customers," said Moser. "Absentee voting starts next Monday. We are going to have curbside voting and we've installed plexiglass in our windows and are going to mark spots on the carpet and put social distancing signs on the doors with instructions."

Jamison added, "I'm waiting for the DOT to give the go ahead on this but for driver's license we plan to take appointments only. We are going to have temporary hours on Monday to Friday from 7-5 but that will be for appointments only. As long as we get it approved it will be for Palo Alto County residents only and it will be for things that are necessary, so we are going to screen every phone call that we get and set up appointments. For motor vehicle, we are going to tell people if they need to renew vehicles they still need to either mail it in, put it in the dropbox, or do it online and same with property taxes. There's no reason that they have to be here to do those things.

Jamison continued, "We are going to allow probably two people in at a time and space them out at our window so they are at least six feet apart and allow a half hour for each person so we have time for them to get in and out and for us to clean the counters and do what we need to do to get ready for the next customer. If there's an issue with people coming in without appointments and we get the hall filling up we will probably have to lock the doors and tell people to call and then we will come and let people in one by one for whatever service they will need."

"If we see an uptick the rules might have to be changed a little bit but I think those are pretty good ideas," said Hunefeld.

"Yeah, I think that's what we have to do," said Moser. "We have to come up with a plan.This isn't going to go away and whatever we try to do, if it doesn't work, we will just have to make adjustments."

Community Health Grant Public Hearing

Pursuant to the requirements of Section 508 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1987, as amended, the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors held a Public Hearing for the CDBG Community Health Grant. The purpose of the hearing was to discuss the status of funding for the Palo Alto County Community Health to assist the elderly. This project is being funded through a Community Development Block Grant provided by the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

The following items were presented to the public at the hearing:

The need for the CDBG project grant is as follows: Our community is largely populated by elderly persons and those with high risk diagnosis and needs.

The description of the CDBG funded project and activities is as follows: In an attempt to keep the people in these categories healthy and not increase their risk for exposure to this virus, our public health agency is assisting them by drawing labs, checking blood pressures and weighing community members in the safety of their home. In doing this, we are preventing these people from having to come out of their home into the community and hospital setting, where they could come into contact with this virus.

The amount of CDGG funds for the project is $4,000. This will cover the $50 cost of each visit. That cost will cover $30 for staff time and $20 for supplies such as lab draw kits, packaging and bandages as well as gas for approximately 6-7 visits per week for 12 weeks. As a public health agency, the health of our community is of utmost importance and we desire to continue to assist these persons in remaining in their home for simple testing that can be completed at home by a skilled professional.

The estimated amount of CDBG assistance to benefit low-and moderate-income persons is $2,000.

The location of project activities will be completed at homes by a skilled professional. In being able to have the funding for this, our agency will be able to continue to meet these needs outside of the hospital and potentially protect many high-risk individuals in our community, without risking the viability of our business.

Due to the nature of this project no persons shall be relocated as a result of the recommended project. In the event that any persons or businesses are displaced as a result of the recommended project, the entities involved in the project will adhere to the requirements of the Uniform Relocation and Assistance and Acquisition Act of 1974, as amended.

Palo Alto County contact is: Sara Strohman, RN, BSN, Director of Community Health

To assist Community Development and Housing Needs of low to moderate persons in Palo Alto County and promote the use of federal, state and local assistance programs as follows:

1) USDA Housing Program: 100 percent financing is available and the interest rate for families with eligible incomes may be reduced to 1 percent. USDA Rural Development is able to loan in communities with a population of less than 20,000.

2) Homeward, Inc.: Offers programs for Palo Alto County, including: Down Payment Assistance, Energy Efficient Loans, Minor Repair Application, Well and Septic Loans

3) Workforce Housing Tax Credit: Assisting Construction or Rehabilitation of Housing in Communities with Workforce Housing Needs.

The Board of Supervisors asked for public input on Community Development and Housing needs and received no input from the public. No one was present for the public hearing and no public comments were made.

The public hearing was closed at 9:10 a.m.

The Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors on motion approved the following CDBG required policies:

1 . Residential Anti-Displacement and Relocation Assistance Plan (RARA)

2. Excessive force resolution

3. Equal Opportunity Policy

4. Fair Housing Policy

5. Code of Conduct

6. Procurement Policy



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