By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – On Dec. 21 Congress passed a $900 billion-dollar COVID-19 Relief Bill that included extending the deadline for municipalities to use their CARES Act funding (which are set to expire on Dec. 31 of this year) to Dec. 31, 2021.
The package is pending presidential signage and, so far, President Donald J. Trump is not happy with the deal.
As such, the town is waiting to see what happens but time is running out, the need is great and COVID-19 cases continue to escalate.
At the Board of Selectmen’s Dec. 22 meeting, Town Manager Kevin Mizikar reported 366 new positive cases bringing the cumulative total to 1,324. The daily incidence rate is now 64.7 per 100,000 people which is an increase of 37.8 percent. Likewise, the positivity rate has increased to 7.65 percent which is an increase of 3.6 percent.
“December has quickly become the worst calendar month so far… It’s really an unfathomable number of 548 cases,” Mizikar stated. “The zero to 19 age bracket has become the largest cohort…”
He reviewed COVID-19 coronavirus relief that the town has received since the pandemic began in March. The town needed to use the approximately $3.4 million it received as part of the CARES Act by Dec. 31, otherwise unused funds would revert back to the federal government.
Of those funds, approximately $1.35 million was allocated to municipal operations and $2 million to the school department. Other relief funding came from the Public Health Trust Fund, a grant from the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and FEMA totaling approximately $4.9 million.
If the deadline is not extended the town would lose a significant sum of funds with “approximately $1.5 million dollars sitting on the table.” To date, $1.98 million has been expended.
Planning for vaccine
The town has been in the state’s high-risk RED category since Dec. 14, town buildings remain closed to the public but officials are planning for vaccine distribution.
“We plan to work directly with the State Department of Public Health through our regional entity the Central Mass. Regional Public Health Alliance to receive vaccines directly and distribute them directly to all first responders and direct employees of the police and fire departments,” he noted.
Recently, Shrewsbury has been provided a mobile vaccine unit that will be used to supplement any actions taken by public health officials in distributing the vaccine.
“Representative [Hannah] Kane and Senator [Michael] Moore were able to secure earmarked relief funds for the town of Shrewsbury for $35,000 utilizing CARES Act funding for any specific services that we may need for PPE or other COVID response,” he added.
Selectman John Samia asked, “Do you have an idea what we are looking at for Covid related expenses for the remaining part of the school year?”
Mizikar replied that disinfection of public buildings and unemployment will be the primary expenses but the schools are looking at COVID-19 testing options which will impact the financial picture.