The first meeting of 2022 for the Monroe County Board on Monday continued in the same vein of the past two calendar years with COVID-19 being the main topic of conversation.
Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner gave a COVID update to commissioners, saying that “cases are going crazy” and the sheer number of Omicron variant infections will make for “a rough couple of weeks, but we’ll get through it.”
Due to its decreased severity compared to other variants, Wagner said Omicron is “nothing to panic about,” but cautioned the more severe Delta variant is still around.
Read the latest local COVID update by clicking here.
Monroe-Randolph County Regional Superintendent of Schools Kelton Davis gave commissioners a quarterly report about the state of area schools.
He predicted the beginning week of 2022 will be “insane” for local educators and students, noting that current “(COVID) numbers are not pretty.”
Davis thanked commissioners for facilitating a mobile COVID-19 testing program for area schools. Both Randolph and Monroe counties approved use of American Rescue Plan Act funds to finance the purchase of a vehicle and related supplies to test students and staff on school grounds.
“The COVID testing has been a game changer. It has kept hundreds of kids in school that otherwise would not have been,” Davis said, adding it “would not have been possible without (the county boards’) support.”
The testing not only prevents lost time for travel to testing sites, but also provides quicker return of test result.
He explained testing for staff and students happens at the schools and the tests are delivered to a lab in Springfield. Results are often known by early morning of the next day.
“Keeping kids in school makes a heck of a difference,” Davis said.
He reported that area school superintendents have called his office to thank him for spearheading the effort that has allowed students to avoid missing school.
Monroe County commissioners also thanked Davis for the initiative.
“It was your out-of-the-box thinking that got us this far,” commissioner Vicki Koerber noted.
As far as area education in general, Davis said the “challenge is staffing. It is exceptionally difficult right now.”
The other overarching concern in schools and society in general, according to Davis, is mental health.
“We’ve got kids in kindergarten … who can’t distinguish between different facial characteristics. That means you don’t know how to cope,” Davis gave as an example.
“We are just not (mentally) healthy,” he continued, adding it applied to all segments of the population – not just school students and staff.
“It’s just horrible,” Davis said.
Other byproducts of the COVID pandemic are supply chain issues and material cost increases.
Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger reported instances of both at Monday’s meeting.
The board had previously approved the purchase of a single-axle dump truck to be used by the highway department. Metzger informed commissioners that the manufacturer of the vehicles has introduced a $2,900 surcharge to account for high demand and increased cost of steel and rubber.
Koerber asked if there was any way to dispute this charge since the board had already approved the purchase, and Metzger signed and returned a price quote without the surcharge.
The board asked Monroe County State’s Attorney Lucas Liefer if he could review the document, but also conceded that availability of vehicles would likely make any dispute irrelevant.
“That’s what these people know. They know you’re going to take (the surcharge) because people are waiting in line (for vehicles),” board chairman Dennis Knobloch said.
The board voted to approve the surcharge pending Liefer’s review of the original contract, with Koerber adding she would like a letter attached to the new purchase order expressing disapproval of the price change.
Metzger explained the order would go to the dealer, who is simply passing along the surcharge imposed by the manufacturer.
Metzger also confirmed that other vendors have even longer wait times or are not currently taking orders.
In other action, commissioners voted to reappoint Metzger as Monroe County Engineer for a six-year term through February 2028.