A resolution regarding a Wastewater Surveillance Pilot Program passed 16 to 2 in the Chautauqua County Legislature Wednesday night.
Legislator and County Board of Health member Liz Rankin said the program is not mandated and the county had originally planned to use American Rescue Plan monies to fund doing it before the grant was received. She said the grant had already been accepted with the resolution on the agenda adopting a budget for the grant.
Rankin said she was voting yes not just to fulfill the grant obligations but also because she believed in what the grant supports, “The wastewater surveillance program is an early warning system for managing COVID and to give a community profile, give us a heads up, not to isolate and quarantine people, but to mobilize staff and resources, first responders, and long term care systems. Public health surveillance has been around for a very long time.”
Rankin added wastewater surveillance has been done for decades including being used in the 1940s for polio, in the 1980s for Hepatitis A virus and norovirus outbreaks, and in the 1990s as well, “We are not creating something new. We are folding in a technology that’s going to work for us now. This is a great opportunity for us to stay on top of public health trends. The samples are collected at publicly owned central treatment plants and not in neighborhoods and not at specific houses. We’re not targeting anyone in particular. It is planning for the community based on results.”
An amendment proposed by Legislator Tom Harmon added language that would limit the collection of wastewater samples to publicly owned wastewater treatment plants. The amendment also stated a spreadsheet report on the collections would be provided after the pilot program ended on July 31, 2022.
Legislators John Davis and Bob Scudder were the two no votes.
The legislature unanimously approved a $2 million grant from the State Department of Health to hire fellows to work with the County Health Department.
Legislature Chairman Pierre Chagnon said he spoke with an epidemiologist who lives in his district who worked on the creation of the fellowship program. He said the program was established six months into the pandemic when state and local counties realized they didn’t have enough health care workers to deal with the pandemic effectively, “So the concept was, how do we get more people involved in public health, trained in public health, educated in public health. So this was created as a means of encouraging people to become more educated in public health by putting them to work in fellowships working with public health departments in the counties, doing work on the ground, learning about public health.”
Chagnon said under the program, fellows will be employed by not-for-profit organizations and work for and at the direction of the County Health Department, “Not at the direction of the state at all. So, they’re there to help the county health department, public health department. And they’re there to learn and experience the public health field first hand so that they can become better educated about the practice of public health and also to encourage those who are interested in pursuing education in public health.”
Chagnon emphasized the concerns he’s heard about the fellows working for the state are misinformed.
The legislature also passed a resolution accepting a a $25,000 grant for the Chautauqua County Mental Hygiene Department‘s Mobile Crisis Unit. The grant is to be used for education and training; billing, equipment and electronic medical record expenses.