LEONARDTOWN, Md.– During a meeting on July 27, the St. Mary’s County commissioners approved the health and information technology departments to receive a portion of the $22 million American Relief Act funds because of their time-sensitive needs.

Five hours before the meeting, the commissioners’ board was questioning how they should split the portion of these federal funds when they received a notification from St. Mary’s County Health Officer Dr. Meena Brewster, with an emergency funding request. Commissioner Eric Colvin[R-District 1] later advocated for the idea at the meeting, but there were still questions about why it could not wait.

Brewster explained during the meeting that the delta variant is becoming more prevalent in St. Mary’s, and the health department needs these funds to support COVID-19 response with surge staffing.

“When I sent the first request, the number one priority outlined in the budget request was to support COVID pandemic response through a level of surge staffing. We talked about how we decrease our surge staffing from what we have had in this pandemic,” Brewster said. “For this fiscal year, we have surge staffing that we need to maintain in order to maintain our COVID-19 response.”

Although she emailed regarding this last minute, she said it was a common belief that the decision would come sooner rather than later. But, when the health department realized that things might move slower than planned, it prompted them to show a sense of urgency by emailing to advocate for these funds.

As previously mentioned, the health department has decreased the amount of staff, but the rate of viral infection is surging likely because of summer activities and vaccination status. Brewster insisted that if they want the health department to deal with the ongoing issues, they will need help to maintain their current staffing. This request came weeks before the announcement on August 13 that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has designated St. Mary’s County as a “high transmission” area for the coronavirus.

“Considering the spike in cases over the past couple of weeks, we know we are entering another surge of COVID-19,” Brewster said. “As individuals remain unvaccinated and not wearing masks over the summer while socializing, it is to be expected, but new strains will continue to circulate. Unfortunately, we are dealing with the Delta variant, which has become the predominant strain in the U.S.”

Regarding the information technology department, the commissioners believed it was a simple decision to give them a portion of the American Relief Funds since they have been considering this for a while. However, it was harder to decide on allocating money to the health department, since Brewster only notified the commissioners of the motion hours before the meeting.

Brewster and Colvin noted that this request was put in weeks before, but it was not urgent until numbers showed a new spike in infections around the end of July, which has since gotten worse.

Eventually, the commissioners agreed that the health department will receive $1 million, and the information technology department will receive $4.7 million over the next two years.

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