The impacts of the global coronavirus pandemic are not going to change for some time. We need to be prepared to deal with this issue for at least the next two years or until there is a proven vaccine that can be mass-produced for communities around the world.
Our city needs to take a robust and flexible approach to respond to this public health emergency. As we’ve seen, logistical problems can lead to backed-up waiting lines for testing.
In order to accomplish this, I am committed to ensuring our public health department is fully funded, works as a distinct agency within the city, and has enough personnel to accommodate widespread testing.
Information is an important feature of how we address the pandemic.
Residents deserve access to aggregated data about outbreaks and clusters on the coronavirus in the community. The city needs to abandon its long tradition of stonewalling the public from what should be public data. The people of this city have the right to know where to practice extra caution.
What do we need to do?
Expansion of testing is needed to continue identifying where the coronavirus is in our community but it’s time we have a more targeted approach. The public health department has a log of testing statistics and can identify where there are more troubled and at-risk areas. We need to protect vulnerable communities and provide resources to areas that have seen high positive rates.
We need to use CARES Act funding to bolster the number of personnel at the public health department who can help in the response to the virus and who can help establish more permanent and mobile testing areas through a targeted approach. Public health department teams can help public and private organizations who experience outbreaks in long-term care facilities, nursing facilities, and shelters for the homeless.
The city’s data indicates the virus is greatly impacting communities on the East Side. In particular, zip codes represented in District 7 are atop the list. That needs to change and the valley deserves more testing sites and availability. On the city’s list of testing sites, there’s one serving the valley. That’s unacceptable.
As a city representative, I will work with my colleagues and city staff to come up with a strengthened approach to caring for our district. Part of the plan would be to ensure businesses such as call centers and shopping centers are following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines and our local orders.
The city and state testing groups should work with heavily trafficked businesses by providing infrared thermometers to take customers’ temperatures. For customers with a fever, those businesses can work with public health teams to get tests administered quicker.
For example, if a customer has a fever, an employee can either call or reach out to an embedded representative of the public health department near the business to schedule a test.
Those efforts will provide an opportunity for community outreach and education on how to stop the spread of the virus.
This is one effort that is being used in South Korea and has worked as an effective method for identifying those who need to quarantine.
Response to furloughs, job cuts and the public need
Remaining CARES Act funding provides the city an opportunity to bring over 400 city employees both furloughed and laid-off compensation for financial struggles due to the global pandemic.
The funding provides several provisions that allow cities to make adjustments to retirement plans to help furloughed employees receive financial support. Those options include cash distributions, higher retirement plan loan amounts, and delayed loan repayments.
Funding from the federal government also provides an opportunity for those employees to help with testing sites where they can sort out administrative needs to expand testing.
Federal dollars may also help keep strategic libraries open to provide curbside service and assistance and put furloughed employees back on the job. These places can serve as wellness check-ins for the community.
Local governments are expecting more relief from the federal government through the HEROES Act. The funding provides an opportunity to ensure that the city provides personal protection equipment to all city employees, uniformed and non-uniformed.
To help residents in our city who have been furloughed or completely cut from their job, we should commit using CARES Act funding for job retraining programs that can also provide small stipends. Retraining programs provide an opportunity for El Pasoans to get new workforce skills and help them reenter the job market. Similar programs have been explored in other communities in Texas.
While we wait for mass approved vaccination treatments, we should be listing procedures to care for the community. It’s possible a second wave of the virus will disrupt our economy again and we need to be ready for that.
City representatives and the administration should be considering the use of discretionary funds to provide the local food bank with financial assistance.
The city administration should also be identifying funds and ways to provide the local food bank with teams to help at distribution sites through the use of CARES Act funding. There is a great need and hands are needed to help with the distribution of food to residents.
Another round of federal dollars should be distributed into the community to assist families and individuals struggling with rent payments. In such a difficult time, we should work to ensure our residents have support.
CARES Act funding watchdog
The city of El Paso received $119 million from the federal government through the CARES Act this year. The money, which is meant to provide relief to states, cities and tribal governments, was deposited into the city’s account in April.
Since, the city has spent $15 million on providing rent, mortgage, and food assistance to our residents. A large portion of it still remains unused and we need to identify how to use it quickly because there is such need.
However, while we get this much-needed money into the community, there needs to be a group keeping an eye on how the money is being spent and who can compile data on the communities that are being served. The money provided by the federal government is a lot and we should be able to provide a report on how it was distributed.
That way, if relief from the federal government comes again, we will have data and knowledge on what communities to serve that may not have been before. And, how to do it more effectively.
I support putting together a commission and appointing a CARES Act watchdog to keep an eye on spending and who can provide a report to the council and community.
A report will also provide a comprehensive explanation to the federal government in case the inspector general requests one.
As a representative
Our community needs an advocate and someone who will demand these things while in office so that our response to the pandemic is reflected in the need of the people. I plan on being that person to help our city during such difficult and turbulent times.
Where can you get tested?
Please visit the city’s website for testing information.