As mass vaccinations have helped California alleviate some of the stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ventura County’s leaders took a step back on Sept. 30 and reflected on the past year.
Ventura County Executive Officer Mike Powers, who is in his 10th year as the county government’s top executive, delivered the annual State of the County speech in an online event sponsored by the Ventura County Taxpayers Association.
Powers oversees the region’s biggest local government agency, with a $2.6 billion budget, nearly 10,000 employees and around 27 agencies and departments.
Powers said more than 1,000 employees were reassigned during the pandemic, something not many other counties did.
“It made such a difference because we were able to do a tremendous amount of testing, feeding of seniors and massive vaccinations at sites,” Powers said. “Our county employees really do care. It’s a calling, it’s not just a punch the clock.”
In total, the county spent $392 million on top of its usual $2.6 billion budget on COVID-19 related issues, he said, including testing, vaccination deployment and local assistance.
Powers said 81% of Ventura County residents 18 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a rate well above the state and national averages and the neighboring counties.
About 79% of Ventura County’s 12-and-over population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. In total, 72% of residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated.
The county has spent about $9 million on vaccination deployment, Powers said.
“We are continuing to work on it,” he said. “We had the mass sites and now we are going more door to door and pop up and more local types of things.”
About $80 million was spent in the county on COVID-19 testing, which Powers said was not funded by the CARES Act. The CARES Act was a $2.2 trillion stimulus package signed by former President Donald Trump on March 27, 2020.
The money was instead spent and then reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Powers said.
“It made our CFO a little nervous but we did it,” he said. “We spent $80 million to expand mass testing in our county.”
When the $80 million was reimbursed, Powers said, it was allocated to “business assistance, rental assistance and assistance for farmworker housing and other programs.”
The county’s COVID-19 spending included medical services, rental assistance and grants to businesses that were affected by the pandemic. The county awarded 7,000 such grants, totaling $70 million.
“Many of the businesses were down to their last month’s rent check when we heard from them, and we were able to get them grants, not loans,” Powers said.
Another $3.65 million was spent on the county’s farmworker assistance programs, which helped spread the word about the virus within the farmworker community and also helped to get them vaccinated.
Before he became CEO, Powers ran the Ventura County Health Care Agency, which includes the county’s public hospital. More than half of the county’s total budget is spend on health and human services, and in 2020, the public health care system was able to adopt telehealth on barely more than a moment’s notice.
“I worked in healthcare for years,” Power said. “We talked about it for decades, and it never really happened much. Pandemic comes along, we want people to stay home and they got to get health care — bang, it’s in our system. Almost 50% of our visits at one point were done through telehealth, and it really worked, the doctors love it and the patients love it.”