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February 24, 2021

County offers closer look at $97M in Covid costs

Santa Clara County released the most detailed look yet at its pandemic-related spending.

In a memo issued Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors, county Finance Director Alan Minato said he identified 2,300 expenditures from at least seven different departments. All told, they amount to nearly $97.5 million budgeted as of May 19 to address the crisis.

Of the $28 million spent on payroll by that time, the vast majority—upward of $9 million—went to Valley Med. Another $6.5 million covered employees assigned to the Emergency Operations Center while $3 million went to the Public Health Department and $2.3 million to the Sheriff’s Office.

Minato noted that payroll costs are “significantly understated,” and that the figures presented reflect the best estimates so far.

“An effort is underway to account for further costs and work with departments to ensure that payroll is tracked appropriately,” he explained in the written summary.

Meanwhile, the county spent about $480,000 on clothing, helmets, goggles, masks and other equipment designed to shield frontline workers from disease. Additional personal protective gear came from the state at no cost to the county.

About $1.6 million has paid for motels, inns and hotels and $1.1 million on labs, testing sites and diagnostic equipment. Some $1.6 million went to contract nursing, $274,000 to daycare for essential workers, $182,000 to transporting patients and clients, $138,000 to consultants and $130,000 to janitorial services.

More than $2 million funded donations to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Destination: Home and an unnamed behavioral health organization.

Information technology gobbled up $3.5 million, medical and plastic supplies $351,000, renovations at DePaul Health Center $200,000 and meals $127,000.

Pharmaceutical costs veered up to $10 million.

Roughly $49 million is spoken for in yet-to-be-paid purchase orders.

The financial disclosures come three months after the county declared a state of emergency, which expanded the administration’s authority to fight the crisis, and weeks after the board allocated $175 million for Covid-related spending.

As weeks turned into months, however, demands for transparency began to escalate. They culminated with a referral by supervisors Susan Ellenberg and Dave Cortese for the county to create a public web portal showing exactly where the money went.

Their joint proposal—which directs the county to create the data hub “as quickly as possible”—won unanimous approval Tuesday from the five-member board.

Ellenberg and Cortese held up dashboards launched by St. Louis and New York City as models. The referral directs the county to publish a breakdown of all emergency expenses by date, type, vendor, department and eligibility for federal or state reimbursement.

They said the portal should also list how much the county spends on meeting the key benchmarks it must meet to ease shelter-in-place restrictions. Metrics such as hospital capacity, Covid-19 testing, contact tracing and isolation and maintaining a month’s supply of protective equipment for healthcare workers.

Normally, the county’s emergency spending powers have a distinct end date. But the protracted nature of the pandemic presents new, ongoing challenges, County Executive Jeff Smith reminded the board.

“Covid is not going away any time soon,” he said, adding, “we have no immunization on the horizon, no specific treatment and no other approach that’s proven effective except shelter in place.”

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