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The Cole County Commission has hired a firm to assist the county in meeting its obligations under the federal CARES Act for purchases related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commissioners on Tuesday approved hiring BKD, an accounting firm from Springfield, for $278,000.

County Finance Officer Debbie Malzner said county officials meet with BKD personnel weekly through next spring.

The commission and other county leaders will meet with community leaders across the county about how to best use federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds.

BKD will help develop an application process for assistance, evaluating eligibity and risk assessments of entities that apply.

Cole County received $9 million from the CARES Act in May. Commissioners decided the county needed a professional company to help track county spending of those funds.

Instructions from the federal government indicated the money could go toward necessary expenditures incurred March 1 through Dec. 30. Funds that aren't spent by March 31, 2021, must be returned to the state. They cannot be used for replacement of lost revenue.

Contact tracing staff

Also Tuesday, the commission approved hiring two part-time staff members for the Cole County Health Department to assist with contact tracing for COVID-19 cases.

The two new staff members are retired nurses who will be on-call and work no more than 20 hours a week for $25 an hour.

These positions will be funded through federal CARES Act money the county received.

Cole County Health Department Director Kristi Campbell said the department continues doing contact tracing on every positive case it is notified of in Cole County.

Contact tracing is a labor-intensive tool used by public health departments to prevent spread of infectious diseases like the coronavirus. It requires workers to interview people who test positive, track down people they might have had contact with and ask them to self-quarantine.

"We don't need assistance with contact tracing yet, but with back-to-school immunizations and school flu clinics coming, we want to have a couple extra people that we can call in if needed," Campbell said.

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