Maricopa County's COVID Response

By Bill Gates, JD, District 3 Board Supervisor at Maricopa County 

From Print Issue - Summer 2020
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As we enter July, and into the sixth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, based on Maricopa County’s Emergency Declaration on March 18th, the one thing that has remained consistent is that the situation is ever changing.  Maricopa County is the fourth largest county in the country.  As the representative on the Maricopa County Board of Health for the Board of Supervisors (Board), I have the honor to work closely with Marcy Flanagan, Executive Director of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.  Marcy and her team have been working tirelessly on the county’s response to COVID-19 since late January when Maricopa County had its first positive case. 

 

Our COVID-19 positive numbers have been some of the highest in the nation this summer.  On June 19th, the Board of Supervisors adopted a county wide mask regulation to slow the spread.  We know that it takes time to see the results of this regulation.  We are working with community agencies and partners to supply cloth masks to low income areas to ensure that no one is without a mask due to financial hardship.

 

To combat COVID-19, Maricopa County received $399 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding from the federal government.  This funding must be spent by December 31, 2020 on COVID-19 response activities not already included in the budget. I am grateful that we do not have to make government bigger to make a difference.  Instead, we can use federal dollars to improve existing county services.

 

Under the plan approved by the Board, CARES Act funds will be distributed as follows:

 

  • Health emergency response: $83.5 million

  • Homeless response and prevention: $40 million

  • Small business and nonprofit assistance: $23 million

  • County services: $77.5 million

 

The Board reserved $175 million to address upcoming costs such as the anticipated second wave of COVID-19. The $83.5 million set aside for public health will be utilized as follows: $25 million for testing services; $15 million for enhanced contact tracing and disease investigation; $10 million for personal protective equipment for health care workers; $5 million to support long-term care facilities; and $1 million for surge capacity at the Office of the Medical Examiner.

 

To support our families and individuals, $27 million of the $40 million is set aside for eviction program voucher payments to assist in the prevention of homelessness.  Additionally, we activated an empty Maricopa County building downtown to provide nighttime heat relief for our homeless population through the end of September.

 

We provided PPE, testing, and support in long term care facilities, assisted living facilities, jails, homeless shelters and other congregate settings needing testing and infection control training.

 

The Board also approved $23 million for the Small Business and Nonprofit Relief Grant Program.  This program was designed to provide up to $10,000 in grants to reimburse businesses and nonprofits that can demonstrate financial hardship and lost revenues during March and April due to COVID-19.  Applications were accepted July 9 – 31, and the program is being administered by the Arizona Community Foundation.  Phoenix and Mesa also received significant CARES Act funding; therefore, this grant program is available to businesses and non-profits in Maricopa County that are outside of Mesa and Phoenix.

 

As a board, we have invested in digital technology to provide better customer service to our residents and meet them where they are.  As such, when COVID-19 hit, we were able to operate via virtual counters, online permitting submission, and online payments.  We also now understand that many of our employees can work remotely and still provide excellent service.  This can be the beginning of rethinking our employment model and creating a more flexible work environment, promoting retention, and an improved work life balance.

 

I am grateful to the physicians, first responders, front line employees, support staff, and public health professionals across Maricopa County who are working tirelessly throughout this pandemic.  You are being asked to stretch yourself professionally, personally, and emotionally.  Thank you.