WASILLA — The Wasilla City Council received a presentation from the Mat-Su Health Foundation at their Monday meeting, detailing the still available funding for local organizations to combat COVID-19 and provide resources to community members, as well as a study on the behavioral health needs of frontline workers. MSHF Chief Communications Officer Robin Minard and Vice President of Programs Karen Koenemann presented on the three main grant funding mechanisms stood up by MSHF with mostly Federal and state funding.

The Coronavirus Prevention and Response was announced in March of 2020 and awarded more than 50 grants totaling greater than $1.8 million to local nonprofits meeting critical safety needs including housing, transportation, child care, behavioral health and food security.

“We are still awarding these grants so community organizations can still apply for them, really looking at organizations that we can provide funding for supplies, equipment, other programmatic costs that organizations might have trying to minimize exposure for high risk groups while meeting our basic needs, also organizations that are working to secure basic needs for all residents,” said Koenemann.

The C-19 response funding was launched in August of 2021 in partnership with the local cities and Mat-Su Borough with $5.1 million in passthrough funding from the DHSS to expand mobile testing including the school district mobile strike team.

“We are partnering with the borough and tomorrow overnighting a check to pay for 25,000 home test kits for COVID that will be distributed at no charge to Mat-Su residents, so with the hope that people, if we make it easier to get a test they can do it at home, they can have privacy, because some people don’t want to go get tested and be in the the system and then hopefully if they get a positive test they’ll contact a healthcare professional and stay home instead of being out in the community and so those are going to be shipped the middle of October,” said Minard. “Anywhere where people are we’re going to try to get those test kits out into the hands of folks to supplement all of the other testing that we’re supporting and that was part of that community driven C-19 funding that came to us.”

Minard noted that Connect Mat-Su provides a toll-free COVID-19 information line at (907) 373 — 2628 to assist Valley residents who are unsure of where to find services for testing or after testing positive for COVID-19. Minard and Koenemann took several questions from members of the council following their presentation.

“Of course it’s the Mat-Su Borough, there’s a lot of independent minded people up here, myself being one of them. We’ve seen just as much research against the vaccine as we have for the vaccine, which to me they both seem legitimate,” said Councilman Tim Burney. “I’m on one side, of course I have friends on the other side. I begrudge nobody who wants to get the vaccine. Is there anybody within this program to be able to kind of dovetail it all together to kind of not sway, but maybe just have a conversation about the pros, the cons, because I think there’s experts on both sides that have good points on both sides and there’s a lot of questions out there especially for those people that are on the fence for the vaccine, specifically the vaccine.”

Minard answered that the MSHF continues to follow CDC guidance and would refer questions to trained medical professionals.

“We’re not the experts, I’m not a scientist. I’m not going to be able to tell you whether or not to get vaccinated, but I will try and help you get access to information so you can make a decision,” said Minard.

The MSHF commissioned a report on the behavioral health needs of frontline health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and presented findings during the meeting. The report received responses from over 400 frontline workers. Non-white respondents were more likely to experience money or paid time off loss from required quarantine at 69 % than the 43 % of all respondents who experienced the same loss.

“What we learned was that frontline workers have just faced an inordinate amount of stress on all fronts but they haven’t been able to utilize their usual self care and protective practices that might mitigate some of that stress,” said Koenemann.

The report also found that the highest number of respondents expressed stress due to not being able to see their family at 67 % of all respondents. There were 45 % respondents who experienced stress due to seeing community members without masks and 61 % who expressed stress due to constantly changing pandemic guidelines.

“Unfortunately we’ve just seen that the mental health stress on frontline workers perpetuated and there are many frontline workers and in particular health care workers that are just almost in a crisis mode because they’ve just been dealing with this chronic stress for such a long time,” said Koenemann.

Minard noted that the MSHF goal of making the Mat-Su the healthiest borough in the state is typically driven toward long-term planning, but that the COVID-19 crisis demanded that grant funding be made more immediately available to address basic needs.

Wasilla has had a requirement that all people who enter Wasilla public buildings wear a mask since September 7. Mayor Glenda Ledford was unable to chair the September 13 and recently recovered from a breakthrough case of COVID-19. Councilman Tim Johnson participated in the meeting telephonically and reported that he was recovering from COVID-19 infection. Following the presentation, one member of the public spoke to the council.

“I just want to ask you guys to do the right thing when it comes to making decisions for the rest of the people in this community and maybe we should not be listening to the CDC anymore and we should also look at the severity of the crimes against humanity that are taking place with the vaccines,” said Antonia Hagan. “As far as I’m concerned it’s all a lie and I really want to caution you guys. You guys have a really important role in the welfare of this community and I love it here. I love the people here and that’s why I continue to come back here so I just want to thank you guys for everything you do and I don’t want to ruffle feathers but I can’t be quiet anymore because people in Alaska are dying from vaccines and I’m not about to put masks on my children.”

There were 308 cases of COVID-19 reported among the five zip codes that are attributed to Wasilla on September 26 alone, following 280 on Sunday, 153 on Saturday and 419 cases reported in Wasilla on Friday. The Mat-Su has a case rate of 1,722.2 per 100,000 residents over the last seven days.

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