COVID-19 wastewater testing begins this week
After years of searching, Hill County may finally have a new sanitarian in the wings in Will Cochran, who was introduced at a meeting of the Hill County Board of Health Wednesday.
During the meeting Hill County Public Health Director Kim Berg, also the county's health officer, said Cochran was recently hired by the department as a environmental disease specialist and as of Tuesday he has been approved as a sanitarian-in-training.
Berg said he has to fulfill the requirements of his training within a year to be licensed as a full sanitarian.
"Yes, and I want to get that done as quickly as possible," Cochran said.
The county has been without a full-time sanitarian for more than two years, a situation the department has said has become extremely problematic with work building up as their part-time sanitarian Clay Vincent was retired and could only work a very limited number of hours per week.
Board member Erica McKeon-Hanson said Cochran performed very well during his time at Montana State University-Northern and members of the board said they are very happy to have a new sanitarian-in-training.
"I can't tell you how excited we are to have you here," McKeon-Hanson said.
Members of the board also received an update on activities at the Hill County Health Department including their COVID-19 testing.
Berg said they are still seeing low COVID-19 numbers but that is likely because people are not testing much any more.
Lead Public Health Nurse Bridget Kallenberger said the county's wastewater testing system has been set up and will take its first readings for COVID-19 levels in the community later that day, which will hopefully give them a clearer picture of how prevalent it is in the area.
Berg said there were quite a few hiccups in getting the system set up, but the department's staff made it happen.
She also said the department has been providing more COVID-19 boosters than anticipated.
She also said they have gotten positive tests for the flu and are still offering vaccines.
Berg and Board Chair Mark Peterson said they wanted to remind people to go get the vaccine to protect themselves and others against the flu.
Kallenberger said the state is also looking to rollback county health departments' telehealth systems so they are hoping to get at least one in-person provider to Hill County to make up the gap.
Berg and Kallenberger said Hill County was one of the few counties that actually used their COVID-19-era telehealth system as intended and saw substantial benefit, while most other counties found the system to be largely useless, and very few saw any kind of revenue increase from the system.
Berg also said that the department's Women, Infants and Children program is doing very well, having scored very well in their latest inspection by the state, but they are going to make some improvements based on some things pointed out in the inspection.