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Why an Arizona County Turned Down $1.9 Million in Covid Aid

The $1.9 million in pandemic help would have gone a great distance in Cochise County, a rural borderland the place a winter of infections swamped hospitals. There was cash for monitoring instances. Testing in distant ranching cities. Funds fortifying the Arizona county’s strained well being division.

However the county’s Republican-controlled board of supervisors surprised many residents and well being care employees by voting final month to reject the federal cash, changing into one of many uncommon locations in America to show down Covid-19 help from Washington.

“We’re completed,” mentioned Peggy Judd, considered one of two Republican supervisors who voted in opposition to accepting the cash. “We’re treating it just like the frequent chilly.”

The vote remodeled what would normally be a rote line on a authorities agenda into an emotional flashpoint on this county of 125,000 folks the place life is formed by the southwestern border, rhythms of ranching and, now, a pandemic that has killed 522 residents.

To conservatives, rejecting the cash felt like a high-desert declaration of independence, even when their rural county does depend on a number of different federal spending and jobs supplied by the Fort Huachuca Military base.

Docs and hospital officers, typically reluctant to plunge into divisive debates of their largely conservative county, began talking out after they noticed news of the 2-1 vote in The Herald/Overview, the native newspaper. Some criticized the supervisors for reinforcing native vaccine resistance with a welter of anti-vaccine misinformation.

“It’s madness,” mentioned Dr. Cristian Laguillo, who has been treating a crush of Covid-19 sufferers at Copper Queen Group Hospital within the outdated copper-mining city of Bisbee. “It was a call made with out thought, with out care. That’s maddening.”

Greater than 200 small rural cities throughout the nation have declined pandemic funds from the Biden administration, in line with a survey from the Nationwide League of Cities, representing a tiny fraction of the a whole bunch of billions of {dollars} pouring into cities and states.

The Treasury Division has already despatched out $245 billion to native, state and tribal governments by the American Rescue Plan. A overwhelming majority have eagerly taken the cash, together with some elected Republican leaders who had opposed the measure. The cash has flowed towards faculties, well being care techniques and reasonably priced housing, but in addition non-Covid initiatives equivalent to jail building, freeway initiatives and tax cuts, in line with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Some tiny cities say they haven’t any use for the coronavirus reduction because the pandemic trudges into a 3rd 12 months. And different conservative rural officers are turning down the cash as a public repudiation of vaccine mandates, the $30 trillion national debt and a persistent pandemic that’s killing 2,500 folks every day at the same time as new instances ebb and Democratic states lift pandemic restrictions like mask rules.

In Cochise County, critics mentioned they had been notably stung by the timing. The January vote rejecting the cash got here as Omicron instances surged throughout the county, with the federal authorities sending in a 15-person strike group on the request of the county’s largest hospital, Canyon Vista Medical Middle.

Since there are few intensive-care beds within the county, medical doctors mentioned they had been spending hours on the telephone pleading with crowded hospitals in Utah, Texas or Phoenix to take sufferers too sick to remain in Cochise County. State knowledge exhibits that about 70 p.c of the county’s residents are vaccinated, however well being employees say these numbers could also be inflated by Mexican residents who cross the border to get vaccinated.

The Cochise supervisors who voted in opposition to the $1.9 million have raised doubts in regards to the security and reliability of the vaccines, regardless of no proof. Ms. Judd mentioned she and her household had recovered from Covid-19 in November after ingesting orange juice spiked with ivermectin, a drug generally used to deal with animal parasites that has turn out to be a go-to treatment for vaccine opponents. She mentioned she and her household stay unvaccinated.

“We’re these folks,” she mentioned in a phone interview, coughing sometimes — a lingering signal of the an infection.

The battle in Cochise County is one skirmish in a bigger battle that conservative governors and native leaders are having with the Biden administration over the best way to hand out billions of {dollars} in Covid-19 cash, echoing fights over whether or not states would develop Medicaid underneath Obamacare.

13 largely Republican-led states sued the Biden administration over restrictions within the coronavirus reduction legislation that may have prevented them from utilizing federal cash to offset tax cuts. The Treasury Division has additionally fought with Republican governors in Florida and Arizona who’ve sought to disclaim federal funds to varsities with masks mandates.

Two dozen states lower off expanded unemployment advantages final summer time, saying the additional cash from the federal authorities was deterring unemployed People from in search of work. And a handful equivalent to Idaho and Iowa have rejected or not spent hundreds of thousands in pandemic help for school testing and rental help.

Alicia Thompson, Cochise County’s director of well being and social providers, utilized for the disputed cash greater than a 12 months in the past with the hope of, amongst different issues, extra testing in rural areas, assessing how Covid-19 had affected the neighborhood and hiring a finance director.

Within the intervening months, she has misplaced one cousin to the virus and had one other hospitalized on a ventilator. She nonetheless goes to work masked as much as attempt to not carry dwelling the virus to her husband, who has continual lung illness. When the vote on the cash arrived, she anticipated that the county would settle for it.

“It was a shock to me,” Dr. Thompson mentioned. “I’ve been scrambling to determine, What are different methods, how can we nonetheless get these providers to neighborhood members?”

Ms. Judd mentioned she had voted to simply accept different federal funds for housing, legislation enforcement, preventing the opioid disaster and addressing different financial and well being tolls of the pandemic. However she mentioned she rejected the $1.9 million — which originated with the U.S. Division of Well being and Human Providers — as a result of she was doubtful about doing contact tracing, public well being surveys and hiring a safety guard on the well being division.

The opposite Cochise supervisor who voted in opposition to the cash, Tom Crosby, in contrast Covid-19 vaccines to Agent Orange, the cancer-causing herbicide that killed and maimed a whole bunch of hundreds through the Vietnam Battle. He mentioned he needed “to get the county out of the vaccine business.”

Because the board weighed whether or not to take the cash at a gathering, Mr. Crosby reminded the county’s public well being director that he had supported anti-Covid efforts earlier within the pandemic. However now?

“The general authorities development is towards threatening and eroding constitutional rights,” he mentioned.

It was not the primary time Cochise County’s leaders have drawn consideration for what critics name their harmful views on vaccines or democracy.

The county’s Republican Social gathering chairman was considered one of 11 Republicans who falsely claimed to be the state’s true electors regardless of President Biden’s win within the state. And Ms. Judd and her household traveled to Washington in January 2020 to hitch the rally in opposition to certifying the presidential election. (She later told The Tucson Sentinel that she by no means entered the Capitol constructing and posted a statement on Fb condemning the rioters and violence.)

Ann English, an 80-year-old rancher and retired faculty administrator, was the lone “sure” vote for taking the $1.9 million. Ms. English, a Democrat, mentioned the vote and the anger catalyzed by Covid that’s swirling by the nation mirrored how deeply misinformation and divisions had been now sown into the soil of native politics.

“I don’t perceive why anybody would need us to show down cash that may assist hold folks safer,” Ms. English mentioned. “That is well being we’re speaking about.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/11/us/covid-relief-funds.html Why an Arizona County Turned Down $1.9 Million in Covid Aid

Fry Electronics Team

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