McHenry County Board of Health approves new epidemiologist position to help with COVID-19 response

By Kelli Duncan
Shaw Media
Updated 5/13/2020 11:13 AM

The McHenry County Board of Health approved a resolution Monday evening to add a new epidemiologist position to the county's staff to help with reporting and surveillance related to COVID-19.

The resolution will now go to the county board for approval at the next regular meeting scheduled for May 19.


Currently, the county has one full-time epidemiologist, Ryan Sachs, but public health nursing director Susan Karras said her department identified a need for another permanent epidemiologist position to help with the monitoring and reporting of infectious diseases even before the pandemic began.

"We are seeing a huge increase in infectious disease reporting," Karras said during Monday's meeting. "In addition to that, we've added the COVID surveillance ..."

According to the resolution, the health department has seen an increased need for epidemiological expertise since 2018.

"From 2018 to 2019, the Department saw a 128% increase in reportable infectious disease investigations, and an 813% increase in outbreak investigations resulting in a large volume of data to process," according to the resolution.

Now, the coronavirus pandemic has further amplified the county's need for a second full-time epidemiologist to help analyze, model and report on data, public health administrator Melissa Adamson said in Monday's meeting.

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Jason Thomas was a public health adviser with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for two years before becoming an independent contractor in epidemiology. Adamson said Thomas has been working as a contractor with the county since April.

According to Thomas' contractual agreement with the county, he was hired to provide technical assistance in "surveillance and monitoring, modeling, trending and reporting results of (COVID-19) response/investigations."

In a May 9 letter to the McHenry County Council of Governments on the county's COVID-19 response, the MCDH said there are 15 people conducting contact tracing and three epidemiologists (including Thomas) tasked with overseeing disease monitoring and surveillance.

As McHenry County leaders petition to move into phase 3 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's five-phase COVID-19 recovery plan, contact tracing and surveillance of the spread of the virus will be essential to reopening the county, according to the governor's plan.


The new epidemiologist position will also support the MCDH's ongoing efforts to track and report on the opioid epidemic and its impact within the county, according to the resolution.

The MCDH brought the resolution to the board of health Monday to create a full-time position for Thomas. The health board's vice president, Mary McCann, made a motion to approve the proposal and board members voted unanimously to pass the resolution.

If approved by the county board, the new position will cost the county an estimated $75,612.39 annually, according to the resolution.

Also on Monday, the board of health approved the use of grant money awarded to the county through the Illinois Department of Public Health's COVID-19 Crisis Grant.

Adamson said the grant is designed to help local governments in their response to COVID-19 by assisting with costs around additional staffing and other resources.

McHenry County was awarded $147,961 through the IDPH COVID-19 Crisis Grant, according to the grant agreement.

A portion of these funds will be used to pay for Thomas' time as a contractor with the county, Adamson said earlier in the meeting.

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