Malheur County Health Department in Ontario. (The Enterprise/file)

Malheur County submitted a request to the state for nearly $95,500 in reimbursement of costs related to COVID-19, according to records obtained from the county.

The request is for expenses the county incurred between March 1 and May 15, said Malheur County Administrator Lorinda DuBois, and there may be a second request in July.

The county is seeking a share of the $1.6 billion in federal relief provided to the state of Oregon. Gov. Kate Brown set aside $200 million to help counties recover money spent in dealing with the global pandemic.

DuBois said over 44% of the reimbursement would be for payroll costs of employees who have been working on the county’s COVID-19 Task Force, which consists of Malheur County and health department personnel. The county health department already received state funding prior to the request for reimbursement, she said, so it did not include costs for three positions on the Task Force – the Malheur County Health Department director, the county nursing supervisor and the emergency preparedness coordinator.

Malheur County hasn’t had to hire additional staff to serve as contact tracers, she said, and current Health Department staff is being used.

“With a total potential of 15 people to do contact tracing, Malheur County is prepared to handle 30 cases each week, with a high estimate of 20 hours per case,” according to the county’s plan for reopening in Phase One. “This is well above the 20 cases in the Management Action Points that could trigger a hold or regression in reopening phases.”

Around 40% of the requested funds would go to medical and protective supplies, according to records. This portion is largely to reimburse personal protective equipment kits that the county ordered early on in the pandemic before receiving state-supplied PPE, which was more conducive to clinical settings, said Rich Harriman, Malheur County Emergency Manager. Harriman is distributing the kits to ambulances, first responders, hospitals, assisted living facilities, adult foster homes and mass transit, though “not to the degree we thought we would,” he said.

The county requested about $5,700 for “COVID-19 related expenses in county jails,” which DuBois said was for disinfectant, additional cleaning supplies, thermometers and a glass barrier at booking.

It requested over $5,500 for staffing of COVID-19 testing sites, she said, as well as $1,500 for “disinfecting public areas and other facilities,” expenses at the county courthouse and Road Department.

The request listed nearly $1,300 for public safety measures, which she said include offices “installing plexiglass at front areas used to service the public like what you see at grocery stores.”

“They haven’t been installed yet because there is a backlog of work due to the demand,” she said.

The county also requested $580 for telework capabilities, which would cover Go to Meeting accounts and equipment for tele-training, such as computer cameras and headphones with microphones.

Harriman said there is no guarantee that Malheur County will be reimbursed, adding that its request for compensation following the 2017 snowstorm was not approved. “But if there’s anything that we get reimbursed for,” he said, “this is a real good reason for it.”

News tip? Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian at [email protected] or at 503-929-3053.

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