Metro area agencies and businesses have tried for weeks to procure enough PPE and tried to ramp up testing for coronavirus, including the Jackson County Health Department with multiple testing sites a week.

The department also hoped to secure $5 million from the $123 million in CARES Act to hire up to 52 workers temporarily to take over contact tracing and other work associated with COVID-19 cases. A County Legislature majority voted Monday to hold that ordinance for a week, citing further questions about costs and oversight, but Legislature Chair Theresa Cass Galvin said it will be withdrawn from Monday’s agenda.

Instead, she has put a similar ordinance for $1.5 million on Monday’s agenda.

“This is enough to get her started and hiring some people,” Galvin said, though it’s unlikely that ordinance would receive a final vote Monday.

Also in the mix: a proposal from the fire departments in Independence, Lee’s Summit and Central Jackson County to have firefighters who are emergency medical technicians or paramedics help with contact tracing at no extra cost, something for which they would have training. Thus far, the Health Department has not taken up the offer from fire chiefs Doug Short (Independence), Mike Snider (Lee’s Summit) and Jeff Grote (Central Jackson County Fire Protection District), an offer that Galvin reiterated Friday still stands.

Contact tracing is considered a key component of controlling communicable diseases, part of what Shaffer called a “box-it-in” strategy that the Health Department hopes to use. It begins with identifying a case, isolating that positive patient and then identifying recent contacts of the person with the disease.

“We place those contacts on quarantine for 14 days,” Shaffer explained during Monday’s county legislature meeting. “And during that 14 days we follow up with them twice a day … to check on their symptoms.”

Such work has been done for decades, she said, and “this is just a different disease that we’re doing case investigation for.”

Legislator Crystal Williams, who introduced the $5 million proposal, said health departments here and elsewhere have used this technique in tracking and controlling STDs for many years – without complaints about privacy.

Shaffer said her department has pulled nurses, data analysts and others into a team of 11 for contact tracing for the time being. Hiring additional staff allows those people to go back to their regular, necessary services such as immunizations, and would be critical to reopening in phases and controlling outbreaks.

“Knowing we’re going to have more cases as we open, it’s very critical that we’re prepared for this,” Shaffer said, “or we’re going to have to go back a phase, which is not what we want to do.”

Galvin asked Shaffer on Monday if she was going to use the fire departments “that have offered to help you for no cost.”

Shaffer said she needs people for 40 hours a week, every week for at least the next months, “and I don’t think the fire departments can commit to that.”

“No, but they can commit to giving you some of their time,” Galvin replied. “They can commit to giving some relief. They are educated; they are trained.”

Shaffer said they could go through the volunteer process through Truman Medical Centers to help.

Williams said that given the confidentiality involved, “I would feel more comfortable with dedicated personnel that required to follow guidelines. I understand that firefighters can do that too, but I think it’s a specialized enough service that it’s probably better to have people that are dedicated to it in the department.”

In their letter to Shaffer, the fire chiefs said their EMTs and paramedics “have a scope of practice covered by medical directors that allow them to do history taking, patient documentation and technical physical interventions that could be very helpful in contact tracing.

“We know that not all of (our) residents both reside and work within the same city,” the letter continues, “so it is important, as our departments have very good insight to where potential hot spots may be within our cities and how to trace them back.”

Short reiterated Friday he would be “ready and willing to help in this effort,” whether it be Fire Department staff or Medical Reserve Corps volunteers overseen by the city’s emergency management.

Galvin said the $5 million proposal included money for software and PPE, both of which had already been assigned or should be on hand. Whereas that proposal had temporary workers hired for up to five years or until a coronavirus vaccine is available, the $1.5 proposal allows up to 52 workers through December.

Galvin also said Friday a regional effort of organizations on both sides of the state line could be starting to help with contact tracing, and she wants to see how that might pan out.

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