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Federal COVID-19 funds discussed

Warren Scott COVID-19 FUNDING DISCUSSED — On Tuesday, the Brooke County Commission approved the use of federal C.A.R.E.S. Act funds and its decision not to grant hazard pay for Brooke County sheriff’s deputies.

WELLSBURG — The use of federal money issued in response to the pandemic was a recurring subject at Tuesday’s Brooke County Commission meeting.

The commissioners agreed to divide $100,000 in federal C.A.R.E.S. Act funds available to public service districts in this way: $10,000 each to the Brooke County and Washington Pike public service districts for expenses they deem related to the pandemic and $80,000 to the Hammond Public Service District to remove sludge from a holding pond used by it.

County Commissioner Stacey Wise said the Hammond district has applied for a grant from the Army Engineer Corps for the project but won’t know whether it’s been approved until February or March.

Wise said the C.A.R.E.S. Act funds will allow the district to start before that. She noted all three districts must spend the money before Dec. 31.

In related business, the commissioners issued a statement regarding their decision not to grant hazard pay for Brooke County sheriff’s deputies as requested by the Brooke County Deputy Sheriffs Association two weeks ago.

A letter signed by commissioners Tim Ennis, A.J. Thomas and Wise states they were “advised by the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office, the West Virginia Governor’s Office and guidance provided by the United States Treasury that is is inappropriate to use these C.A.R.E.S. Act reimbursements for any type of additional pay for county employees.”

The commissioners noted that instead they have dedicated about $995,300 in C.A.R.E.S. Act funds for radios and upgrades to the county’s emergency 911 center expected to cost nearly $3 million.

They reasoned that such improvements benefit the entire county.

Gary Conley, president of the deputy sheriffs association, noted because of their frequent exposure to the public, the deputies face increased risk of contracting the virus and bringing it home to their families.

On Tuesday Sheriff Scott Adams warned his department is at risk of being overbudget from officers currently working overtime to make up for those who are ill or have been instructed to self-quarantine.

He said it’s difficult for the deputies to understand why they can’t receive hazard pay when deputies in neighboring counties have been granted it.

County Commissioner Stacey Wise said if a state auditor finds the commission has used the funds improperly, the county would be forced to repay them.

The commissioners stressed they appreciate the efforts of all of the county’s first responders, including law enforcement, emergency medical personnel and volunteer firefighters, as well as other county employees who have maintained operations during the pandemic.

“We are so blessed to live in Brooke County and have such dedicated people working in our county,” said Ennis.

Citing that, they approved year-end bonuses up to $3,000 for each full-time employee and up to $1,500 for each part-time employee, with specific amounts for each to be determined by county department heads.

Concerns about use of the C.A.R.E.S. Act funds come as the county continues to be affected by the coronavirus.

The health department has reported 115 active cases and 61 probable ones, the latter reflecting people found positive through the less reliable rapid test after displaying symptoms. The number is down from the 123 active cases and 67 probable ones reported on Friday but it also includes 10 hospitalized and three deaths.

Mike Bolen, the health department’s administrator, confirmed the three were senior citizens. He couldn’t say whether they had pre-existing health conditions causing them to be more prone to suffering severely from the virus.

Bolen said cause of death is determined by the doctor who signed the death certificate for the deceased, not public health officials.

Skeptics have argued deaths linked to COVID-19 may be the result of other causes, such as the flu, which has similar symptoms and can be fatal for those with weakened immune systems.

Bolen said, “We’re definitely seeing a higher level of fatalities compared to the flu.”

He encouraged anyone with symptoms similar to the flu not to take them lightly because they may risk spreading COVID-19 to others.

Bolen said it’s difficult to predict how a person will respond to the virus.

“I’ve seen it make perfectly healthy people really sick and I’ve seen elderly people (with it) do fine,” he said.

The C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc. Community Health Department is offering free drive-up COVID-19 testing from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at 114 Taylor St., Weirton.

The tests are available to anyone but participants should bring an ID and wear a mask.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldtaronline.com.)

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