BELMONT — More helping hands should be on deck shortly to assist the Allegany County Department of Health with handling COVID-19-related work.

The Allegany County Board of Legislators approved the filling of four part-time office aides on Monday, posts that Health Director Lori Ballengee said she wished could be filled “by 3 p.m. today” due to urgent need. The postings, which run through June 2022, are temporary positions with salaries of around $5,200, she said, and are funded by federal tax dollars administered by the state.

During the Ways and Means committee meeting before the full board on Monday, Ballengee said her staff has been heavily taxed by the pandemic, with responsibilities ranging from contact tracing to checking in on those in quarantine daily. The caseload has spiked since schools and colleges came back into session in the last month.

“We were here until midnight, 1 a.m. some nights, of course all weekends,” she said. “Tonight, we’ll be here tonight late because we got another positive student… We stay until every single contact is reached and in quarantine.”

Three school districts with Allegany County students were closed Monday. An “affiliate” of Canaseraga Central School has also tested positive, Ballengee said, while Alfred-Almond Central School canceled in-person classes Monday following a positive case — a Steuben County resident who attends the school. In addition, nearby Arkport Central was also closed.

“These (hires) could not come at a better time because we’re tired,” she said. “It’s been a long, I don’t know, seven months?”

A weekend ago, workers made 132 contacts through the county’s three colleges connected to new COVID-19 cases, with another 88 connected to a positive case at Bolivar-Richburg Central School, which was closed last week due to a positive case.

“We have to instruct them, educate them, give them their paperwork,” Ballengee said. “It’s not for the faint of heart.”

“You can’t go on doing this — you need relief,” said Legislator David Decker, R-Cuba.

To date, the county has recorded 114 cases among residents — an increase of two overnight — with 100 recoveries and one death reported. There are also 213 active quarantines or isolations as of Monday afternoon, with 1,349 having been released to date.

Ballengee also addressed criticism her department has received from some in the community, typically those posting on social media, about the limited personal patient information provided by the department.

Not only is there limited value in reporting who has contracted the virus or if they may have visited a certain store on a given day, Ballengee said the department has also noted potential danger.

“We had people at the onset getting death threats,” Ballengee said, adding that the information provided by some other counties in the region, like if the patient had been to a certain store at some point on a given day, was also of limited value for contact tracing in addition to the threats against patients and stores.

She also added that the schools and colleges have done a good job informing their communities, and there was no need for the county to repeat their messages.

“If there were a true outbreak, we are going to do press releases, we’re going to do radio ads, we’re going to do every media means we can think of to get the word out,” she said.

(Contact City Editor Bob Clark at bclark@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)

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