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About Appeal tribune. (Silverton, Or.) 1999-current | View Entire Issue (June 30, 2021)
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 30, 2021
Counties used COVID-19 funds for pandemic ripple eﬀects
Claire Withycombe and Megan Banta
Salem Statesman Journal
USA TODAY NETWORK
Oregon’s 36 counties sought millions
of dollars in federal aid to deal with the
From responding to emergencies to
running courts to investigating disease
outbreaks, critical county services were
adapted and expanded to deal with the
demands the pandemic created.
Counties, as the local public health
authorities, coordinated virus testing
and traced the spread of COVID-19
through contact tracing. They also
worked closely with local hospitals, said
Gina Nikkel, executive director of the
Association of Oregon Counties.
When it came to public health, the
state coordinated the response, but the
counties “are the delivery system on the
ground locally,” Nikkel said.
Southern Oregon’s Douglas County,
for instance, created a drive-thru test-
ing clinic that reduced the need for pro-
tective gear, Nikkel said. And when CO-
VID-19 vaccines started becoming avail-
able, counties put in the elbow grease to
get mass vaccination sites, like the one
at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, up and
“We are directed and told by the state
what needs to be done,” Nikkel said.
“And then we do it.”
Oregon received $1.6 billion in tax-
payer funds from the federal CARES Act
COVID-19 emergency funding program.
The Oregon Department of Adminis-
trative Services has paid about $189 mil-
lion in coronavirus relief funds through
the CARES Act to Oregon's counties
through April, according to state data.
That ﬁgure doesn't include relief money
that counties received through legisla-
tive allocations to other state agencies,
such as the Oregon Health Authority.
The state also spent relief money on
their behalf on items like protective
Marion, Polk and Lane counties were
permitted a maximum combined reim-
bursement of $34 million in CARES Act
Counties also got money to respond
to the pandemic from sources other
than the relief funds, like the Federal
Emergency Management Agency, better
known by its acronym, FEMA.
Data the counties provided the Reg-
ister-Guard and Statesman Journal in
response to records requests shows
counties spent widely on services for
people without housing, for county resi-
dents adapting to work from home, on
Continued from Page 1A
The state is not typically involved in
the purchasing of personal protective
equipment. Emergency response and
health care providers have their own
However, once an emergency was
declared, Dennis and Kelly Mix, deputy
state chief procurement oﬃcer, took on
Normally requests are approved up a
chain of command at a "measured"
pace, Dennis said. In the ﬁrst days of the
pandemic, Dennis said she would spend
the evenings approving requests moved
forward by staﬀ earlier in the day, but
when the state got in touch with the
vendor the following morning, the prod-
uct would already be sold.
And so DAS Director Katy Coba gave
Dennis and Mix new power: up to $1 mil-
lion in spending authority to capitalize
on available product as it was discov-
"Kelly and I aren't trained to be
wheeling and dealing on the phone at 7
p.m. and approving a million dollars to
someone we've never met before," Den-
nis said. "That alone caused a level of
stress because there was this new re-
sponsibility and what if we made a mis-
take? It was so much money and there
was a lot at stake."
They also needed to break a career-
long rule to never prepay for a ship-
ment. Mix and Dennis have worked in
procurement for decades and said this
never happened before.
"But the world worked where if you
didn't make a deposit, you didn't get
your order in," Mix said.
Beyond that, they had a responsibil-
ity to make sure the products were safe.
Once they received a shipment of
foodservice gloves when they expected
medical-grade gloves. Another time
they received medical isolation gowns
that were not rated for coronavirus
treatment. On top of that, guidance
from the Food and Drug Administration
and CDC changed frequently.
"We don't generally procure PPE,"
Mix said. "I felt like I was in school every
day learning about diﬀerent certiﬁca-
tions, learning about how the FDA
works and approves things, learning
what a Level 1 mask is compared to a
Level 3 mask. It was mentally and
physically very demanding."
Dennis and Mix said their email in-
boxes were "overrun" with oﬀers, most
of which came from organizations or
individuals that had never contracted
with the state before.
protective gear like masks, and to keep
workers on their payroll.
Counties also felt, and tried to help
with, the many ripple eﬀects of the pan-
When Oregonians headed outdoors
to escape the monotony of quarantine,
county parks systems wrestled with
how to keep the high volume of campers
safe. When businesses had to curtail
operations after shutdown orders,
counties stepped in with support. And
the shift to remote work for many Ore-
gon workers highlighted the need for
more accessible high-speed internet,
which counties provided with relief
Lane County provided a broad
spreadsheet showing reimbursement
requests made to the state. Marion and
Polk counties provided high-level sum-
maries of how much was reimbursed in
broad categories of spending, and later,
in response to additional requests, pro-
vided more detailed information on
purchases and spending related to CO-
According to the data, Lane County
got a maximum of $19.9 million in pos-
sible reimbursement and had used all of
it as of March 26.
Marion County, as of late April, had
spent about $10.8 million responding to
the pandemic. Of that, the county had
sought to get $3.9 million reimbursed by
the federal CARES Act funds, according
to county data. Marion County's maxi-
mum possible reimbursement was
about $11.4 million.
Between March 2020 and April 2021,
Polk County spent roughly $2.7 million
on pandemic-related goods and ser-
vices. Polk County's maximum possible
reimbursement was about $2.8 million.
Funds go to housing, broadband
Nikkel was careful to note that each
county faced diﬀerent issues in the past
The challenges 2020 presented went
above and beyond the COVID-19 pan-
demic, from Jerusalem crickets feasting
on cattle feed in Lake County to storm
damage in Morrow and Jeﬀerson coun-
ties. In the Willamette Valley, wildﬁres
tore through the Santiam Canyon and
McKenzie River Valley, turning the sky
an ominous shade of orange and forcing
counties to confront another emergen-
In Lane County, a signiﬁcant share of
relief money was put toward housing
people who needed shelter. The county
bought a recovery center and a former
By mid-April, more than 1,200 busi-
nesses had reached out.
Business Oregon, the state's econom-
ic development agency, was tasked with
performing an initial public records
background check to ensure the busi-
ness or individual was a legitimate sup-
plier. That list was passed onto DAS,
which would ask for veriﬁcation that the
suppliers' PPE met federal guidelines.
"The objective, in the beginning, was
to buy anything that met the speciﬁca-
tions that we could get our hands on,"
Dennis said. "There was such a shortage
at that time that there was no way to buy
What Oregon bought,
where it went
State ﬁnancial records show millions
in federal CARES Act money was spent
on masks, goggles, face shields, gloves,
medical gowns, hand sanitizer and disin-
fectant spray during the ﬁrst 12 months of
Purchases with CARES Act funds in-
h $8.5 million to Blackstrap Industries
in Bend for masks.
h $24.5 million to Focus Industries
Med out of Gold Beach for masks and
h $3.75 million to DWFritz Automation
in Wilsonville for N95 masks.
h $2.2 million to Halo Branded Solu-
tions for medical gowns.
h $554,000 to the California Oﬃce of
Emergency Services for masks.
h $405,000 to D6 Inc. for face shields.
h $295,000 to Noble Supply and Lo-
gistics for face shields.
h $831 to Home Depot for Clorox
h $148,000 to Ritz Safety for hand san-
More detailed data from the Depart-
ment of Administrative Services showed
quantities of each purchase as well,
though those records also included items
not strictly deﬁned as PPE.
The data shows the Department of Ad-
ministrative Service's ﬁrst order of PPE
was on March 20 and included: $26,000
to MSC Industrial Supply for 40 boxes of
gloves and 160 packages of Tyvek suits;
and $475,000 to Rockwell America Ser-
vices for 500,000 surgical masks.
About $12.5 million was spent be-
tween March 20 and the end of the
month, but ordering ramped up signiﬁ-
cantly in April when at least $81 million in
PPE was purchased.
Purchasing slowed down signiﬁcantly
after June, with spurts of purchasing N95
masks in September and masks and
gloves in November.
To distribute the sheer quantity of PPE
federal Veterans’ Aﬀairs clinic to use as
a shelter that would allow for social dis-
Those purchases weren't on the
county's radar before the pandemic,
said Robert Tintle, Lane County's ﬁnan-
cial services manager.
The Board of Commissioners ap-
proved the purchase of the old VA clinic
in direct response to the pandemic as
more people struggled with housing and
shelters had to limit capacity.
In total, Lane County spent $2.5 mil-
lion caring for people who weren't able
to shelter in place because they didn't
have a home. In addition to setting up
the recovery center and shelter, the
county helped people get food, provided
Pallet shelters and gave money to social
Polk County in its detailed data about
COVID-19-related spending did not dis-
tinguish between what was funded
through the CARES Act and what was
funded through other programs.
The county spent money transition-
ing its workforce to remote work and
also put public money toward boosting
child care access.
These purchases included about
$70,000 on cell phone service, about
$19,000 on gloves and about $13,000 on
masks and mask-making supplies.
The county also spent public money
to increase the number of kids who
could enroll in child care and to build
high-speed internet infrastructure.
Before the pandemic, there were 74
child care providers in Polk County, said
Brent DeMoe, director of the county's
Department of Family and Community
By August 2020, 13 providers had
closed their doors due to the pandemic,
leaving about 200 fewer child care spots
In an eﬀort to make up for some of the
losses, the county, through a new emer-
gency child care fund, ultimately award-
ed about $170,000 to providers to open
up 75 spots for kids.
Polk County spent relief funds to ex-
pand internet service to underserved
areas of the county, awarding $1 million
to Alyrica Networks, Inc. for the project.
Marion County’s health program re-
ceived relief funds that were “right in
tune with what we needed,” said Ryan
Matthews, Health and Human Services
administrator for the county.
The money approved by the CARES
Act alleviated “immediate” concerns
about the ﬁnancial impact of the pan-
demic on the community and the health
department, which provides not only
public health services like contact trac-
ing, but also behavioral health services,
Marion County also provided data
that covered all COVID-19-related
spending but did not distinguish be-
tween what was from CARES Act and
what was from other sources.
County-provided data showed line
items of about $187,000 spent on testing
and about $14,600 on masks.
There was a period when Marion
County oﬃcials worried they would run
out of time to spend reimbursable mon-
ey by the end of 2020, Matthews said.
But at the last minute, the federal gov-
ernment allowed spending to continue
“We were extremely nervous because
we were still right in the middle of the
pandemic,” Matthews said. “And for that
funding to have run out at that point in
time would have been devastating.”
“I don’t even have any sense as to
what our vaccine coordination eﬀorts
would have been without those re-
sources, but it would have really set us
back signiﬁcantly,” he said.
Spending priorities changed as the
pandemic evolved, Matthews said.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the
county hired people who could investi-
gate and track the spread of the disease.
County workers also tried to track down
protective gear like masks – in short
supply in those early days of the pan-
demic – and distribute it to health pro-
viders and ﬁrst responders, Matthews
said. The department also had to ﬁgure
out how to make its own transition to re-
Then the focus moved to testing and
then to vaccine distribution. Along the
way, the county started using relief
funds to partner with local community
organizations to do outreach, Matthews
Tintle described the funds for Lane
County as “welcome news.”
The county already had been spend-
ing money responding to the public
health emergency the virus created, he
said, so it was a “relief ” that the CARES
Act funds became available to help pay
While the CARES Act was a "big help,"
Tintle said, it wasn't enough to pay for
“The pandemic didn’t know that the
funding ran out,” Tintle said.
The biggest cost for Lane County was
paying its workers.
The payroll costs covered both new
the state was bringing in, a recently ac-
quired warehouse in Wilsonville was
dedicated to the task. It was stood up in a
matter of days and was staﬀed by the
Oregon Army National Guard.
The Department of Administrative
Services delivered PPE to counties,
tribes, Oregon Health and Science Uni-
versity and other state agencies.
Marion County received: 793,905 sur-
gical masks, 245,195 N95 masks, 689,250
K95 masks, 104,045 medical gowns,
107,140 face shields and 666,871 pairs of
Marion County's population is about
By comparison, Polk County, which
has about 86,000 people, received:
129,959 surgical masks, 66,955 N95
masks, 152,295 KN95 masks, 29,623
medical gowns, 13,573 face shields and
223,925 pairs of gloves.
Lane County, which has about
389,000 people, received: 360,931 surgi-
cal masks, 120,353 N95 masks, 496,171
KN95 masks, 61,314 medical gown,
42,285 face shields and 252,147 pairs of
Per capita, Marion County received
more surgical and KN95 masks and face
shields than Polk County, but Polk got
more N95 masks, gowns and gloves.
Lane County received less per capita
than Marion and Polk counties in all cat-
Multnomah County received, per
capita, less than both Marion and Polk
counties, except for KN95 masks and
See FUNDS, Page 4A
Local impacts felt
despite state efforts
Typically, distribution chains for per-
sonal protective equipment are set up
through each county’s emergency man-
agement supply chain: for Polk County
that means going through the ﬁre dis-
trict; in Marion and Lane counties, it’s
going through the county’s emergency
The counties were allowed to ask the
state for PPE based on their need and the
state's supplies but also were encour-
aged to continue to order from their nor-
For ﬁre districts, many of which pro-
vide ambulance services, getting PPE
from the state required going through
each county's distributers from the
See PPE, Page 4A
Caitlin Davis CFP® Chip Hutchings
West | 503-585-1464
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South | 503-362-5439
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