BISBEE — Thanks to a $1 million grant from the Arizona Department of Health Services and unanimous approval from the Cochise County Board of Supervisors, the county health department can now start focusing on the homebound community members unable to get to one of the points of distribution for their COVID–19 vaccine.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Cochise Health and Social Services Director Alicia Thompson told Supervisors Ann English, Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby the funding will increase the ability to reach community members in hard to reach areas with the COVID-19 vaccine. These funds can be utilized for staffing, materials, supplies, equipment and travel related to efforts to successfully vaccinate community members throughout the county.

“It’s important to reach these communities,” said Thompson. “It’s difficult to get to the remote areas of the county. We have to maintain a certain temperature during travel to get to these places, so we have to be strategic in planning the routes.”

Thanks to meetings with community members held last week by Thompson and her team, they were able to add certain areas to the list and find areas where the residents were in need. Points of distribution are scheduled for Portal, San Simon, Bowie and the Miracle Valley/Palominas areas.

While these will cover people who can get to the PODs, others who are stuck at home need personal visits, she said. The plan is to set up a mobile unit to reach the homebound.

A $352,000 contract with Rapid Trace for contact tracing over the next six months was also approved by English and Judd, with Crosby voting no.

Craig Janiszewski, county Public Health Emergency Preparedness coordinator, said he does not expect to use the whole amount in over the next six months. If needed, the contract can be extended.

From the beginning of the COVID–19 pandemic, county staff and the Arizona Department of Health Services have been working on contact tracing of people who test positive for the virus, but it is a time consuming process, Janiszewski said.

The Procurement Department put a request for bid, which was approved by the supervisors, and 13 vendors responded, he stated. Procurement and CHSS reviewed the proposals and selected Rapid Trace to handle the work.

The contractor will provide CHSS with COVID–19 general case investigations and contact tracing services and will follow CHSS guidance and relevant state laws “to conduct empathetic, professional and timely case investigations and close contact notifications.”

Rapid Trace will provide full investigations for each case and establish platforms to record disease-specific observations for COVID–19 and input this information into the Arizona Department of Health Services’ system. Investigators are to be assigned in the specialized areas of long–term care and assisted living facilities, schools and critical infrastructure and businesses.

The company is required to report daily on casework to CHSS and attend regular meetings with CHSS investigations and public health staff. It must provide expense reports every month.

Crosby voiced his opposition with the contract, saying he read the entire package of information.

“From the staffing proposal I’m reading ‘close contacts must also be removed from the population via self-quarantine,’ and I find that contradictory as the word ‘must’ is imperative and ‘self’ implies free will,” he said. “It begs the question ‘must be removed from the population’ or else what? I’m against mandatory masks, mandatory vaccinations, mandatory tests and mandatory contract tracing because of Fourth Amendment considerations.”

He also disagreed with the contact tracers’ “strong elicitation skills and training.”

I don’t want my constituents to be faced with these tracers with these strong elicitation skills under the authority of the county,” he said.

Elections Department Director Lisa Marra received approval of a $68,174 grant from the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office for election related expenses covered under the Help America Vote Act.

The secretary of state created a distribution chart based on the number of voters in each county, Marra said. The amount dedicated to the county is $136,348.67 and is equally split between the Elections and the Recorder’s Office and has no county match requirement.

“This grant approval is only for the portion received by the Elections Department,” said Marra. “The Recorder’s Office does not purchase voting equipment and should they determine they are not in need of the funding, the Election’s Department can utilize it. The SOS can award the full amount to the Election’s Department.”

HAVA funds are dedicated by the U.S. Congress for specific election related expenses including security, upgrades or enhancements of voting equipment, audits, cybersecurity training, voter education, election official training, improving physical access of polling locations and improving technology, she added. The grant will not provide for personnel or existing operating expenses.

“The Elections Department will utilize this funding for equipment, supplies, security upgrades and training over the next two years,” said Marra. “The E-pollbooks used at vote centers need to be upgraded as they are near end of their five-year life. The estimated cost to replace the 73 tablets is approximately $95,815. The existing HAVA funds left from 2018, approximately $65,000, will be combined with this amount to cover the cost.”

English said if the Recorders Office wanted to take advantage of the grant, staff would have to come before the board for approval.