January 3, 2023, marked the end of Salt Lake County’s 1,033-day COVID pandemic emergency declaration, originally set in place by Mayor Jenny Wilson on March 6, 2020.
In a letter to the Salt Lake County Council on December 23, Dr. Angela Dunn, Executive Director of the Salt Lake County Health Department (SLCoHD) stated, “Given the incorporation of COVID-19 response activities into the Health Department’s regular infrastructure, Mayor Wilson and I believe it is no longer fiscally [warranted] for the County to extend the COVID-19 pandemic public health emergency.”
Dr. Dunn emphasized that Covid cases continue, yet the health department’s traditional infrastructure is sufficient to address these cases. “It’s still important that everyone stay home if they have any symptoms consistent with a respiratory virus: COVID, influenza, and RSV will continue to be challenges, likely throughout the winter. Fortunately, we have the tools to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We can mask during times of high transmission, we can stay home and social distance when we are feeling unwell, and for COVID and influenza we have very effective vaccines. SLCoHD continues to monitor the situation closely and will adjust its response accordingly, if necessary. At this time, the routine, daily operations of SLCoHD are more than adequate to address this public health challenge.”
“The COVID-19 Pandemic up-ended almost all County operations, yet we emerge stronger,” said Mayor Jenny Wilson. “Under Dr. Angela Dunn’s leadership, our health department is thriving, and Salt Lake County also remains strong from a financial perspective. I am proud of the County’s effective management of the emergency from both a health and economic perspective.”
Along with $203.6M in Cares Act and $225.4M in ARPA disbursements, Salt Lake County’s swift action in the early days of the pandemic qualified it for approximately $50.5M in additional FEMA funding. Future federal funds and reimbursements, made available to the County through the public health declaration, are now diminishing.
The declaration of emergency served as a necessary tool to both adjust procedures to combat COVID-19 and to maximize federal funding available to address the community impacts of the pandemic. The majority of federal funds were used to mitigate the costs of the emergency and community needs, with additional funds applied to essential county services and critical one-time projects. For example, in Mayor Wilson’s 2022 and 2023 budgets, investments of $34.5M in affordable housing, $14M for workforce development, and $13.5M for water conservation were provided. Salt Lake County also partnered with the State of Utah to provide over $156M in rent relief payments, made possible through federal funding.
“COVID-19 presented both a health and economic emergency,” said Mayor Wilson.
“Salt Lake County’s award-winning financial team, led by CFO Darrin Casper, was engaged and active in protecting the County’s financial viability throughout the emergency despite never before experienced economic conditions.”
Maximizing FEMA reimbursements was not the only early decision that will pay financial dividends for decades. In June 2020, Salt Lake County acted quickly to eliminate $77M from its operating budget; implemented a hiring freeze; and executed an employee redeployment program where those working in closed facilities remained employed by working at COVID testing centers, quarantine and isolation facilities, and vaccination clinics. Salt Lake County remains proud that no employees were laid off as a result of the pandemic.
In addition to addressing its own fiscal health, which in turn protected the county taxpayer, Salt Lake County assisted small businesses, residents, non-profit organizations, municipalities, and school districts as intended by Congress through funding distributed by the CARES Act. Schools provided laptops and hotspots for students, while municipalities used funds to plug budget holes created by decreased sales tax revenue and improve public outdoor recreation spaces in response to community need.
Throughout the pandemic, Salt Lake County Health Department remained nimble and committed to addressing a variety of tasks given the spectrum of evolving priorities. In its early stages, it was effective at providing local situational awareness of health risks, based on Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance, as well as supporting the establishment of quarantine and isolation centers. In later stages it led by providing community testing and large-scale mass distribution of the vaccines. It continues to provide local vaccine clinics, prioritizing vaccination to underserved communities. Under Dr. Dunn’s leadership, it has evolved to provide a greater emphasis on community health, delivering services that are geographically, culturally, and linguistically diverse – changes which will make a lasting and positive legacy.
COVID BY THE NUMBERS (data as of December 31, 2022)
COVID Case Data:
- 402,624 cases of COVID (an undercount due to the advent of home testing, the results of which are not reported to the Health Department)
- 13,237 hospitalizations – with 2,941 ICU admissions
- 1,791 deaths
Financial Impacts of COVID:
- $203.6M in federal funding and reimbursements received through the CARES Act
- $225.4M in federal funding and reimbursements received through the American Rescue Plan Act
- $50.5M in federal funding and reimbursements received from FEMA
- $366.3M in COVID Costs and Expenses to Salt Lake County
- $8.1M in Medical Expenses (Testing, Public Clinics, Emergency Medical Response, etc)
- $25.6M in Contact Tracing and Investigation Expenses
- $37.4M in Vaccine and Distribution Expenses
- $24.3M in Economic Recovery Support
- $64.6M in Municipal Allocations and Support
The Salt Lake County Health Department:
- Conducted 115,530 COVID-19 tests and served as the 4th largest tester in the County.
- Administered 286,627 initial vaccine doses, accounting for one-third of all initial doses County residents received.
- Administered 627,390 of the total 2,377,925 COVID-19 vaccinations provided to-date.
- Implemented a new community health worker (CHW) program, now employing more than a dozen full-time community health workers, whose input and perspectives are sought throughout the entire department.
- Collaborated with disproportionately affected communities to distribute masks, culturally and linguistically appropriate educational materials and presentations, partnered with community-based organizations, and delivered food boxes to households in need.
- Modeled delivering services to people where they are. SLCoHD’s mobile outreach teams were highly successful in testing and vaccinating people in their communities, and this work will continue as the department moves forward with hiring a community outreach coordinator within the Clinical Services Division.