The County Council yesterday unanimously passed additional targeted funding in response to COVID-19, as well as an amended executive order on county restrictions in response to the pandemic.

The council approved a $3.3 million special appropriation to implement the African American Health Program Executive Committee program to provide a response to the impact of the pandemic on African American and Black residents.

“This pandemic has wreaked havoc on our world, our nation and our County. Our African American community has been devastated by the high death rates resulting from COVID-19 infection,” said Councilmember Craig Rice (D- District 2), who spearheaded the effort with Councilmember Will Jawando (D-At Large). “That fact, coupled with the existing health care disparities that exacerbate these health concerns, has created a true health emergency.”

Current county data shows a death rate of 87.3 per 100,000 people for non-Hispanic Blacks compared to 76.6 for non-Hispanic whites, and 72.1 for the overall county population, according to a press release. Statewide, as of July 17, Black residents were identified as 28.7 percent of confirmed cases but 40.5 percent of confirmed deaths.

The Department of Health and Human Services, in addition to coordinating contact tracing efforts, will coordinate a targeted testing effort with the AAHP Executive Committee. The program will include both a permanent testing site in the East County and pop-up testing in a variety of easily accessible locations, the announcement said.

Specifically, funding will include:

  • Up to $335,500 for marketing and communications.
  • Up to $611,875 to provide educational information that includes distribution of COVID-19 kits.
  • Up to $460,625 to provide mental health supports and services.
  • Up to $1,121,084 to establish and support a Black physician partnership and provide residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 with financial assistance for co-pays, deductibles and the cost of medication, and
  • Up to $825,000 to address food insecurity for African American and Black residents.

The executive branch intends to seek FEMA reimbursement for all eligible costs related to the implementation of this component of the program, the release said.

Last week, the council approved $5.59 million to establish Por Nuestra Salud y Bienestar (For Our Health and Wellbeing), which will provide wrap-around services including COVID-19 testing, health resources and public education targeted to the county’s Latino residents.

The council also okayed County Executive Marc Elrich’s plan to amend Executive Order 87-20, with the changes effective at noon today (Aug. 5).

Major amendments to the order, according to a press release, include:

  • Prohibiting bars and restaurants from serving alcohol after 10 p.m.
  • Allowing businesses to reopen to provide personal services including tanning, tattooing, waxing, threading, electrolysis, cryotherapy, facial and massages, by appointment only
  • Clarifying guidelines for cigar bars, hookah bars and vape shops to state they “may open solely to sell retail goods. Smoking on site is strictly prohibited”
  • Clarifying that food courts in malls may only serve food for carryout and that malls must remove tables, chairs and benches to discourage congregating, and
  • Allowing religious facilities to hold outdoor services, with an increased limit of up to 150 participants.

The full text of amended Executive Order 87-20 is available online.

Image from Wikimedia Commons licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Mike Diegel