COVID-19 relief efforts around DeWitt and Clinton County are in full effect, and recent spikes in positivity rates have begun to strain reserves, both monetarily and otherwise.

Emergency and healthcare equipment supplies are stressed, said Clinton County Emergency Management Coordinator Chance Kness. 

He and EMA workers are working to make sure they have local supplies on hand; primary supplies include personal protection equipment like masks and gowns. 

“We are concerned about healthcare resources,” he said.  “Along with our public health partners, we are encouraging the public to do whatever they can to limit the spread of COVID, especially now when our healthcare resources are stressed.”

EMA has provided gowns, multiple styles of masks, and test-facility tents to area healthcare providers. 

Kness also said both a state and national rise in COVID cases — and record numbers of hospitalizations — has further hindered EMA’s ability to get its hands on vital resources, especially those it does not have on hand.

“If (healthcare facilities) have resource needs, we will certainly try to assist them with that,” Kness said. “Right now that will be difficult because we are not the only ones experiencing those issues.”

Kness said healthcare providers have done a good job of forecasting their needs ahead of time, a key factor in keeping the local coffers useful. 

Rent help needed

While tangible resource stockpiles are strained, so are the wallets of residents within the Central DeWitt Community School District.

Michelle Ehlinger, the DeWitt Referral Center’s director, said an influx of clients has the center’s rental and utility assistance programs operating at full steam. 

“It’s bad now,” Ehlinger said. “We have people who aren’t even clients of ours who are coming here. People who never thought they’d have to use the Referral Center are coming here.”

The Referral Center offers monetary assistance to help people pay rent or cover the cost of utilities. And as the temperature keeps dropping for the onset of winter, those money sources will become more vital. 

Ehlinger said the Referral Center has spent $11,538.11 on helping people pay their utilities. Ehlinger said national programs have helped supplement that need, but the Referral Center doled out over $2,000 of that $11,000 just last month.

“The working poor man, I’m telling you what,” she said. “They struggle anyway, but with COVID it’s worse.”

The center’s reserves to help residents pay their rent bills has also become a vital resource for those hit hard by the pandemic. 

Ehligner said as of Friday, the Referral Center paid $21,624.04 in rental assistance this calendar year, a $13,000 increase from last year. 

“It’s just people deciding ‘do we buy medicine, or do we pay for heat and lights?’ Ehlinger said.  “A lot of people, if they haven’t lost their jobs, their hours have been cut.”

The Referral Center funds its relief accounts through donations and thrift store sales. To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, only two people are being allowed in the thrift store at one time. 

Area churches and nonprofits — as well as individuals — funnel money into the Referral Center to keep the funds available, and Ehlinger said the group effort has essentially kept the center’s mission on track. 

No single program has met the scale of need. There’s no way,” she said. “We have people with mortgages of $1,400 (a month). And we have families who donate money just for that reason.

“(Economic hardship) is starting to get to people who never had to worry about anything,” Ehlinger continued. “I think people are leery of the unknown. No one knows what’s going to happen.”