Mercer County Health Department

The Mercer County Health Department is pursuing grants in anticipation of rising expenses from distributing a COVID-19 vaccine in the, hopefully, near future.

BLUEFIELD — As COVID-19 expenses continue to rise, especially with vaccines coming at some point, the Mercer County Health Department is pursuing any money available to help with the costs.

Dr. Randy Maxwell, president of the county Board of Health, said during a board meeting last week that grant money is available but must be found.

“We need somebody … to look for money,” he said, referring to health department staff. “We need somebody in this building looking for that, and if they need help getting it that’s fine.”

Maxwell suggested the possibility of graduate student grant writers to help, and they may able to do it for a grade.

“From what I gather, they are pretty good at it,” he said of the students.

“There’s FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) money available out there right now that I think the health department would be eligible for,” said board member Stacy Hicks. “We have applied for it at the squad (Hicks is president of the Princeton Rescue Squad) and we are in the final stages of it …There is a lot of money out there right now.”

“We need to find it,” Maxwell said. “We’ve got some major challenges laying before us right now that is going to take some money.”

Brenda Donithan, administrator of the health department, said some grants have already been applied for, including almost $10,000 for vaccine-related supplies like a special refrigerator to store the vaccine in when it arrives as well as gowns and masks used to administer it.

“We will need extra supplies when the vaccine is released,” she said.

State officials say that it will probably be available sometime in the spring, although no one knows for sure. Some vaccines may be ready for those on the front line, like first-responders and health care workers, as well residents in long-term care facilities by the first part of the year, Gov. Jim Justice said Friday.

Donithan said the department has also already applied for reimbursements from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief ad Economic Security) Act for $23,000 for PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) plus another $25,000 in other pandemic expenses and the flu vaccine.

The department has already administered 567 flu shots, she said.

Donithan said the department continues to be busy testing, and should be reimbursed by the state with $22 for each test if it is mandated by the state.

That happens if there is an outbreak in long-term care facilities or other congregate settings when all residents and staff must be tested.

Several of those facilities in the county have already seen outbreaks, but most have now been mitigated, she said, including at the West Virginia Manor in Bluefield.

One positive case was found there, which by state guidance constitutes the outbreak classification, and all 70 residents were then tested. All came back negative.

Results from tests are taking one to two days to receive, she added, and the department continues to look for rapid tests to purchase.

“That is game changer,” Hick said of the rapid tests, which give results in 15 minutes.

More of those tests are becoming available to purchase now and the newer ones are more reliable.

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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