Butler County hiring new positions to help businesses meet coronavirus precautions

Arlene Williams cleans the bar at Bourbon’s Craft Kitchen & Bar on the first day back for dining in at restaurants in over two months Thursday, May 21, 2020 at Bourbon’s Craft Kitchen & Bar in Middletown. Bourbon’s Craft Kitchen & Bar installed clear shower curtains to seperate diners and is cleaning tables and curtains in between visitors to comply with guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic. NICK GRAHAM /STAFF
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Arlene Williams cleans the bar at Bourbon’s Craft Kitchen & Bar on the first day back for dining in at restaurants in over two months Thursday, May 21, 2020 at Bourbon’s Craft Kitchen & Bar in Middletown. Bourbon’s Craft Kitchen & Bar installed clear shower curtains to seperate diners and is cleaning tables and curtains in between visitors to comply with guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic. NICK GRAHAM /STAFF

The Butler County commissioners invested more than $100,000 in the battle against the coronavirus, giving the health commissioner money to hire two COVID-19 specialists to help businesses reopen.

Butler County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer originally asked the board to approve $476,193 to hire five specialists, lease them cars, buy them computers and purchase 2,600 COVID education supply kits. On Monday the commissioners approved nearly $116,000 for two COVID specialists at $68,240 and 500 supply kits for $47,500. They also authorized the purchase of up to 500 more kits at $47,500 if necessary.

The new hires, who will be employed for a year as temporary employees, will work individually with businesses to make sure their environments are safe, said Carrie Yeager, the health district’s environmental health director

“The program is focused on education, it is not an enforcement program, nor a program designed to penalize,” she said.

The county is using part of the $3.3 million it received in federal coronavirus relief funding for the approval. Earlier this year the state legislature passed the $350 million coronavirus relief bill and distributed funds to local jurisdictions. As a whole the county received $10.7 million.

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A group led by Commissioner Cindy Carpenter of businesses, the health department and others dedicated to helping businesses operate recommended the program. She said the kits will be tailored to the different types of businesses and will contain things like health district-recommended cleansers and instructions for how often to sanitize.

“Part of our concern in our CARES committee is that the public-facing businesses aren’t using the right products,” Carpenter said. “If you look online or listen to the TV there’s all kinds of things out there that are supposed to kill the virus. But according to the professionals the county uses and the health department uses, there are truly specific products that are better than others. We would like to provide a starter kits along with educational materials.”

The commissioners also recently funded the group’s $225,000 public awareness program that is being managed by the Butler County Visitors Bureau. The group is reinforcing mask-wearing, hand-washing and six-feet distancing.

Commissioner Don Dixon said there are so many variables in this pandemic it made sense to start slow with the COVID-19 specialist program.

“We’re in uncharted territory with how everybody is going to react and what requirements are going to change from day-to-day on the COVID directives coming from Columbus or higher up,” Dixon said.

Dixon said smaller business will likely benefit most from the help. Some businesses might also be hesitant about working with government officials, he said.

“We came to an agreement that for the level we were at, that this was appropriate for the crisis as it stands now,” said Commissioner T.C. Rogers.

Bailer also received $269,000 from the commissioners’ CARES Act allotment to hire two more nurses. There have been 3,301 confirmed cases and 69 deaths since the pandemic struck in March, in the county of almost 400,000 residents.

The nurses are helping with the disease investigation efforts, identifying “hot spots” and tracking the disease in the community. Bailer said the two COVID-19 specialist positions will add more help.

“We think they’ll be able to meet the need and work well with our businesses to continue promoting safe operating procedures,” Bailer said. “We look forward to hiring as soon as possible, once the money is received.”