Arlington County Receives FEMA Grant to Help Combat COVID-19

By Amie Knowles

January 28, 2021

Arlington officials say they’re prepared for more COVID vaccines with a grant worth over $2 million.

ARLINGTON – There’s nearly $2.3 million heading for Arlington County. The county became the first in the Commonwealth to receive a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

The award of $2,283,147.93 will help the county procure necessary items ahead of a larger supply of COVID-19 vaccines. With the funds, the county plans to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) and other equipment, as well as storage supplies to properly handle, distribute, transport and administer COVID-19 vaccines.

Hannah Winant works as the public affairs manager for the Arlington County Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management. She noted that when the call stating that Arlington County received the grant came, local officials immediately got to work.

“We actually got the call during inauguration – so talk about rapid action from the new administration and rapid action from the state on a federal level,” Winant said. “We’re really grateful to our state and to the federal partners with whom we work who are taking really quick action to make sure localities are empowered to take the steps we need to quickly role out vaccine once supply becomes available.”

Rapid Response

Winant noted that President Joe Biden’s administration handled the COVID response costs differently than former President Donald Trump’s.

“They’re providing funding in advance to localities, rather than through a reimbursement model,” Winant said.

Under the Biden administration, counties estimated their costs before submitting a proposal asking for the amount they projected they needed.

“That’s great because we can move much more quickly,” Winant said. “It allows us to be in a position to put all of the infrastructure in place to quickly roll out that vaccine once those supplies become available.”

Formerly, money spent came at a 75% reimbursement rate after showing proof of purchase through receipts. That left the county stuck with paying 25% of the bill.

“The 100% certainly makes a big difference for localities because we’re small and we’re locally funded and every dollar counts,” Winant said.

Another positive of the new funding method arose from not needing county tax dollars to fill any pandemic-related voids.

“It also means much, I think, better tax stewardship for our local tax payers,” Winant said. “We don’t have to dip into local tax reserves to fund operations. That means we can keep that money for other really important things.”

RELATED: Northam Says Virginia’s Getting More Vaccine Doses Soon

Spending the Money

Arlington County isn’t waiting to allocate the funds. Leaders already have a plan on how to best help the county with its vaccine rollout. However, that doesn’t mean they can simply purchase more doses with the funds. That’s not how the grant works.

“Were putting the funds in place right now. The money will not be used to purchase vaccines. I think that’s a really important point to make… This doesn’t allow us to go out and buy Moderna and Pfizer doses,” Winant said. “What it will be used for is so we will be able to get space ready for vaccine points of distribution, to hire staff to make that happen, purchase PPE for that staff.  [We can] put everything in place so that the minute we get those vaccines, we’re already on the ground and we’re ready to go.”

With the grant, Arlington County planed a proactive approach. While the amount of vaccine the county received was not within the scope of their control, they readied their facilities for an influx, whenever it arrived.

“In the sense of planting the seeds and waiting for the rain, the vaccine is the rain,” Winant said. “And so what we can control is having the people on the ground, having the space ready to go and communicating with the public.”

Specific Plans

One of the first things they planned to do involved purchasing more vaccine storage equipment.

“We will use this funding to help increase our vaccine storage sites. The vaccines that require ultra cold storage are sensitive, so we need to be very careful with how they’re transported and handled prior to their administration,” Winant said. “Having more storage sites means we can avoid some of those hurdles and get the vaccine out across the community as our supply increases.”

Some of the communication-based funds will go toward the county’s Monday through Friday COVID hotline, (703) 228-7999. The hotline operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It answers questions, provides information about testing opportunities and covers vaccine-related inquiries.

“Part of that is meeting people where they are,” Winant said. “And so we understand that not all of our residents, particularly our priority group right now with the elderly, they may not be able to navigate an online registration. Or they may want to talk with a person to ask questions about vaccine safety. We’ll put those mechanisms into place too.”

By readying their facilities with ample staff, providing helpful vaccination information and even thinking of ways to keep people warm while standing in line waiting for the vaccine, the county approached the effort from many different angles.

“We can have all of those things thought through. We don’t have to worry about that once we get the doses. It’s a plug-and-play,” Winant said. “We can be ready, then, to get things out as quickly and as more widespread as we can.”

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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