A recurring theme has shown up on recent Board of County Commissioners meeting agendas: CARES Act grants and pandemic-related programs. Washoe County has been diligently applying for federal funding to support businesses, residents, and services during this trying time and working toward keeping our community healthy and secure.
When faced with this unprecedented COVID-19 health and economic crisis, Washoe County, City of Sparks, and City of Reno banded together under a “unified command” Emergency Response model to address the needs of the region as a whole while also providing for differing needs of the individual communities. Simply put, the CARES money is pooled when the benefit is to all of Washoe County.
The region’s CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) allocations total $86.1 million. Of that amount, Washoe County received $20.2 million, or 24% of the regional allocation. The first half, $10.1 million, was allocated to Washoe County earlier this year, with the second half expected to be received in the coming months.
Where does this CARES money go? CARES Act funding can only be spent on eligible pandemic-related items under U.S. Treasury guidelines. As can be expected in a health crisis, most of the funding in the first $10.1 million allocation (64 percent) was used to address public health and medical expenses including a quarantine facility, personal protective equipment (PPE), protections for the homeless, public outreach, COVID testing, contact tracing, and alternate medical care.
With County offices shifting to remote work early in the pandemic, some funding (20 percent) went to pay for telework capabilities and other health compliance requirements.
Washoe County set aside $500,000 in grants to assist small businesses affected by the pandemic.
A plan for a second allocation of funds of just over $10 million builds on the foundation of public health and safety, paying for contact tracing within the school district, quarantine facilities, and a large regional homeless shelter to mitigate the risk of disease sweeping through the unsheltered population. Other expenses in the second allocation of funds include building up the regional stockpile of PPE ($1.25 million), the cost of technology to expand remote hearings and trials at the courts while adding infrastructure to support in-person jury trials, and augmenting the county’s technology to support telework for its more than 20 departments.
What does all this look like in practice?
In August, the Commission accepted $82,028 in CARES Act funding to provide child welfare services related to an increased need in children learning remotely and families staying home together. Also that month, the Commission accepted a $1 million grant to be added to the annual budget of the Washoe County District Board of Health, the primary public health agency tackling the testing and tracing of coronavirus.
In September, the Commission accepted $350,000 from the State of Nevada to purchase a new ballot sorting machine, desperately needed to accommodate the mass of mail-in ballots mandated by the State in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And in October the Commission approved $72,000 to pay for two part-time Employee Health Nurses for the Washoe County School District to manage employee absence due to COVID-19, educate staff, and minimize the spread of the disease.
From increased staffing and services to testing and treatment of COVID-19, Washoe County is striving to meet its residents’ needs and support the community through the pandemic.