Sonoma County gets $17.8 million grant for COVID relief
Sonoma County is set to receive a $17.8 million federal grant to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus” through the support of testing, contact tracing, virus surveillance and other measures, county leaders revealed Tuesday.
The Department of Health Services plans to use the money to expand the county’s public health workforce, strengthen laboratory testing to more readily identify coronavirus variants, improve the flow of electronic health data and support local clinic partners in the drive to vaccinate every adult in the county, among other goals.
Underpinning virtually every aspect of the proposed spending plan is the county’s continued drive for health equity. Sonoma County supervisors and health officials on Tuesday again emphasized the disproportionate burden Latino communities have shouldered during the pandemic and, more recently, the gap in getting those populations vaccinated.
“I’d love to offer not just ‘we need to do more,’ but offer resources, our staff and other things to support this effort. It’s go time,” Supervisor James Gore said.
Getting a higher percentage of shots to local Latino residents and food and agriculture workers is all but impossible at the moment, though, as the county grapples with ongoing scarcity of vaccine. With 8,600 doses arriving from the state this week, the county and its vaccination partners are limiting shots to second doses for those who were immunized three weeks ago with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or four weeks ago with the Moderna vaccine. Skimpy supplies of vaccine have hampered efforts to expand opportunities to new groups of people.
Those frustrations were balanced this week by Sonoma County’s long-awaited move from the purple to the red tier of the state’s coronavirus reopening plan. That shift allowed restaurants to seat customers for indoor dining and movie theaters to open their doors, both at 25% capacity; gyms to open inside at 10% capacity, grocery stores at full capacity and retail stores to 50% capacity. The shift to red also creates a path to schools opening for in-person instruction.
Lake County made its ascent to the red tier Tuesday. All but 16 of California’s 58 counties are currently in red, with 11 stuck in purple, three in the less-restrictive orange tier and one, Alpine County, perched above that in yellow.
The $17.8 million grant builds upon a $5 million infusion in August from the same federal program, which was used to fund testing, tracing and COVID education in Sonoma County.
This version also makes money available for vaccinations. The county’s proposed budget allocates $6.7 million for staffing, lab contracts, supplies and communication material; $6.6 million for emergency financial assistance; $2.4 million for vaccination clinics; and $2 million for outreach and case management.
The funding can be backdated to Jan. 15, and may be used through July 2023. The county must forward its budget and work plan to the state by the end of this month.
The support for clinic partners is especially crucial, said Ken Tasseff, the county’s vaccination site coordinator. He explained that federally qualified health clinics have volunteered to run vaccine sites here, paying for their own staffing, outreach and data entry — on top of their usual community health services. As a result, Tasseff said, they have been vaccinating at a financial deficit. The federal grant will help reimburse them.
The money now earmarked for those clinics is a bargain, Gore said, noting that Sonoma County staff don’t directly put any shots in arms. Gore said he believes it would cost the county $5 million to $10 million to handle its own vaccinations. This grant allows the county to put those funds toward contract tracing and testing instead.
This partnership, which will initially include seven federally qualified clinics, is another component of health equity, as those clinics have led the charge to reach low-income, uninsured and non-English-speaking residents. As of Monday, Latinos had received about 16% of the vaccine doses in Sonoma County, while making up 27.3% of the population.
“This commitment to the (health clinics) is going to be pretty much an anchor for our equity work going forward that we’ve got to tune into,” Gore said. “I appreciate seeing this kind of action, because our walk hasn’t been matching our talk.”
You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Skinny_Post.