/ Articles / LTE COVID position request for Vilas County moves forward

LTE COVID position request for Vilas County moves forward

Health Board hears latest pandemic updates

June 30, 2020 by Abigail Bostwick

Vilas County continues to assist in and issue COVID-19 testing, with more than 1,300 tested in the county lines. Of those, as of Wednesday, June 23, 1,262 were negative, two positive, eight recovered and 33 tests still pending. 

As the pandemic continues, the Vilas County Health Board approved at last Wednesday’s meeting creation of a temporary COVID employee to help handle the already six to seven-day-per week work load at the health department. 

COVID update

“Pretty much anyone who wants to be tested, can be,” health officer Laurel Dreger said.

Those who test positive are quarantined for about two weeks. Most experience the illnesses, an uptick in recovery then another decline before full recovery over a few-week period, Dreger relayed of the local area. 

In recent weeks, the health department staff assisted Lac Vieux Desert Casino after they requested aid for community testing. That day, an online site clinic tested 140 residents, all who were negative, Dreger told board members. Testing of all staff at Milestone Senior Living in Eagle River was expected last Wednesday. 

CARE Funding for pandemic

CARE Funding from the state of Wisconsin has come through for Vilas County. CARE is meant to provide pandemic relief funds meant to offset losses and expenses incurred because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding would cover for Vilas County a pandemic plan, a testing coordinator position and epidemiology and lab. Around $30,000 is for the pandemic plan, $56,300 the coordinator and $13,800 the lab. There is a deadline for when funds for each item may be used. 

“This is a significant amount of money,” Dreger said. 

The department has been reviewing ways to work with other departments to maximize response and options. 

A consultant firm the department has worked with in the past is expected to be brought on board to best put to use the grant dollars for the Vilas County Health Department and its community.

“Our staff is firmly at capacity,” Dreger said. “We don’t have the staff for it, and there’s no way we can hire someone, train them and have them going before the money runs out … we are literally at capacity.”

The board supported the action.

LTE COVID position

Dreger noted the department has received an extra $38,000 from the state for a limited time worker to assist in COVID response.

“We need a limited term employee (LTE) to be able to use this money and fill the objectives,” Dreger relayed. 

One staff worker — current dental hygienist — had duties end with school closing, so she stepped into role as COVID triage and reception to field the new workload. 

“It will be an as-needed basis to deal with whatever comes up with COVID,” Dreger said. “It’s going to be super inventive staff-wish when school starts up (from September to spring).”

The LTE will stay in place until the funding runs out and also could assist in other health department needs as they arise with the pandemic, including possible vaccine clinics, which would be in addition to the usual flu clinics this fall, it was indicated. 

The board unanimously approved the temporary, funded position request. It will need approval of the full county board 

Authority in COVID restrictions 

Supervisor Marv Anderson questioned what authority the health department has if changes are needed in pandemic response. 

“What do you see as your authority to make changes?” Anderson asked. 

Previously, each county was permitted to open under their own discretion, but with the state supreme court overrule, many businesses opened sooner than they may have preferred, Dreger indicated. 

“If we start seeing lots of cases after the Fourth of July, say, we will put out more education and more guidance,” she added. “We live in a different type of county. We are naturally isolated. Neighbors don’t live too close to each other … we are fortunate up here to have mild illnesses in many.”

Dreger noted large public gatherings still should be avoided, and if allowed to continue, positive COVID-19 cases are likely to increase.

“We’re watching our numbers carefully,” Dreger observed. “If we go downhill, we start reigning it in … and call for stronger types of restrictions.” 

A statewide ordinance regarding what to do during a communicable disease pandemic is being drafted that will give each county the chance to model and issue their own ordinance, Dreger said. Once available, it will be reviewed first by the county corporation counsel. 

Such ordinances could include money fines, it’s been noted. 

“I would exercise that type of policy if I really needed to,” Dreger reported.

Board chair Carolyn Ritter said many of her resort attendees in the county have been respectful and observant of social distancing guidelines and hygienic practices. 

“A lot of people are being really careful,” she observed. “The message has passed on, and people have accepted it.” 

Dental hygienist vacancy

The same staff worker who stepped in to aid in COVID response is earning their environmental health bachelor’s degree and is expected to transition from dental hygienist into a sanitarian position with the department, leaving an opening for dental hygienist, Dreger informed supervisors. 

That position, mostly funded over the years with state dental grant dollars, usually starts preparing for school visits around in late summer, so would need to start being trained in July. The position’s hours vary as need varies. The only change would be the new fill would not have benefits as part of their job package. 

“Benefits are a tremendous expense,” Dreger explained. 

The position would be paid hourly. 

“I have no issues with filling this position, my only problem is the timing might be off,” Anderson said in relation to COVID-19 and the possible non-opening of school in the fall. 

Board members approved filling the position. 

Other news

In other business, the health board:

• Approved appointment of Michaela Daubon, registered nurse, as Lac du Flambeau advisory member. 

• Heard the humane officer report for the month, which included more response to cat issues. 

• Listened to program reports, many of which are held off due to COVID-19. Tick diseases have gone up in numbers with summer. Beach testing has begun and will continue weekly through the season. Animal bites also have been up recently, it was relayed by Tammi Boears, assistant director. 

• Reviewed the preliminary 2021 budget. 

“This budget is going to be tricky,” Dreger said, as the finance committee is planning to have a zero percent levy increase … in relation to how this COVID has affected local business … I’m not sure how we’ll obtain that with increasing salaries.” 

Abigail Bostwick may be reached at [email protected]

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