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La Crosse County received more than $6 million to tackle the pandemic in last year
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La Crosse County received more than $6 million to tackle the pandemic in last year

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La Crosse County received more than $6 million in relief during the last year while tackling the pandemic, officials told the county Planning Committee Monday.

The funds, totaling to $6,416,146, were sourced from various different outlets, and helped the county with emergency operations, housing, cleaning and sanitizing, equipment, protective medical equipment and more.

“I think it’s pretty amazing to think that we got over $6 million that came into our county for the variety of different things that need to be budgeted for during this time,” La Crosse County Board chair Monica Kruse said.

Monica Kruse

Kruse

“That’s just mind boggling to me,” Kruse said. “If you think about all the other counties also going through that. But that money went into the local economy in some large measures.”

$2,185,907 of those funds came from the state’s Routes to Recovery fund, which were originally funneled from the CARES Act. In addition, other departments received other grants and funding, including $1,569,429 for the health department and $1,925,775 to the county nursing homes.

Officials highlighted several of the details of the funding, but said that overall, all of the county’s needs to help tackle the pandemic were covered under it.

“I think that was just amazing that we were able to get all our expenses covered through these various fund sources, because we have some pretty serious outlay of resources,” La Crosse County supervisor Kim Cable said.

Kim Cable

Cable

In a presentation, La Crosse County associate administrator and interim Health Department director, Jane Klekamp, called the county’s Information Technology Department the “hidden superhero” throughout the pandemic.

The county specifically received $159,130 in equipment with IT used to help operations go virtual, and expenditures included laptops, headsets, printers and more.

Part of the county’s portion of the Routes to Recovery funding was from the initial disbursement, but an additional expenditures were reported and refunded when the reporting window ended last fall.

Officials also received an update on the county’s current COVID-19 measures, including the opening of the new state-funded community vaccine site on Tuesday, as well as news on protecting the unhoused.

The county recently re-launched an isolation housing center at a local hotel to help curb outbreaks in shelter space, which officials reported has been successful so far.

The shelter space at the Econo Lodge is operating through April 15, and officials said that there have been about 35 individuals staying each night.

Additionally, those operating the shelter have now been able to offer night-by-night shelter on top of quarantine space — and reported that as of now, there are no individuals in isolation.

What’s more, is the long-term impact the temporary shelter facility has offered, and officials have helped house four people since Feb. 10.

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“We don’t stop,” said Kevin Burch, the housing director with Catholic Charities.

“Some of the biggest takeaways, I think, have been the partnerships built,” Burch said. “Seeing human services staff, county staff, county health and agency staffs ... all working together, this is a community issue and community thing.”

Also on the pandemic front is the latest on vaccines.

“The great news of the year is the community vaccination site,” Klekamp said.

Jane Klekamp

Jane Klekamp, La Crosse County associate administrator

The site will open Tuesday at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and is set for a visit from Gov. Tony Evers for its launch. It will accompany a new statewide online registration site where individuals can register now, and be automatically contacted when they are eligible.

Officials said the community site was largely chosen because of its partnership with a university, but that the county also checked off a number of other boxes to be chosen.

Some committee members showed concern over parking constraints on campus, but officials said that likely came into consideration during planning.

Teachers in the community are also expected to be completely vaccinated by at the latest the end of next week, and officials said they are actively working to connect with hard-to-reach populations to get them inoculated.

In addition, the county Health Department has now been operating under new leadership since former director Jen Rombalski accepted a position with the state, and Klekamp, temporarily filling in for the job, said “the timing was perfect.”

“It’s a very good, strong group of people and they are managing just fine,” Klekamp said.

The position for health director will be posted by the end of the week.

PFAS, racism on to-do list

Commissioners noted that the county should look into support it can offer for the PFAS contamination on French Island, particularly noting that the town of Campbell library, which is in the county library system, has been impacted.

“Yes, there has been a higher count with their water,” said La Crosse County supervisor Dan Ferries, reporting information from the county’s Library Board meeting earlier on Monday. He said the county is likely to ask the city for help addressing the pollution.

Commissioner Rick Cornforth also asked the county to look into declaring racism as a public health crisis, a move other communities have made to help better clearly define and tackle the issue.

Emily Pyrek La Crosse Tribune

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