CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Health districts across the state have been focused almost completely on COVID-19 since before the pandemic hit the United States, and soon they might get more help in that fight.
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is asking Governor Ralph Northam for $6 million in funding to temporarily beef up the Office of Environmental Health. The funding would be put toward sending new workers out to health districts to help enforce coronavirus regulations. The Thomas Jefferson Health District (TJHD) says the coronavirus response has shifted all day-to-day activities and disrupted many of the health department’s regular services.
“What that did was it pulled all of those staff, our team of EPIs, which at the time was four, and our nursing staff, ten to 14, really into contact tracing,” TJHD Communications Officer Ryan McKay said.
Julie Henderson, director of the VDH’s Office of Environmental Health services, is calling on the governor for more man-power in the response effort. Funding would be used to hire new employees that would be tasked with helping educate the public, answer questions, and field calls about potential violations of the Governor’s executive orders. They would also help with enforcement of those orders.
“Asking for approximately 100 environmental health specialists, and they would be dispersed out throughout the health districts,” Henderson explained. “Whether it’s employees wearing face coverings in a restaurant when they’re interacting with the public or restaurants taking their tables and separating them. Making sure that people can eat with the people that they come with, but not be in close proximity to the neighboring table, so things like that.”
The TJHD says the new employees focused solely on coronavirus would allow them to return some normal operations.
“Our nurses can do community events where they’re providing access to vaccines are required for children to get back into school,” McKay explained. “TDAP and HPV vaccines, begin the process of doing those functions. We may not be operating at full capacity, but we’re providing the services more frequently,”
It’s unclear when exactly the new employees would begin, but if the funding is granted, VDH says the hiring process would only take several weeks. The process would follow similar steps to the hiring process for contact tracers.