City of Union

The recently vacated upper floor at Union City Auditorium could soon be home to up to 10 new Franklin County Health Department COVID-19 contact tracers.

The board of aldermen approved a one-year lease with the county at a special meeting Wednesday, Sept. 23. The county will pay Union $500 a month, with the cost of electricity, heating, cooling and internet access included in the rent. The county will provide its own phone and housekeeping services.

The county is hiring the new contact tracers as COVID-19 cases are rapidly rising in Franklin County, overwhelming current staff. The county previously hired six people to conduct contact tracing using CARES Act funds from the federal government. They joined four full-time health department staff in making phone calls.

The county has no space of its own to handle the new workers, Union City Administrator Jonathan Zimmermann said. “They need the space, we’ve got the space,” he told aldermen.

All the desks on the top floor of the building are still in place from when city officials left in July for the new city hall. “Everything they need to do what they need to do is there,” Zimmermann said.

Zimmermann also showed the county the basement of the auditorium, but that can get noisy with people playing pickleball and other activities in the gym above.

The city’s parks department, which stayed behind in the former city hall, will continue to use the main floor of the building for its offices.

Either party can cancel the lease with 30 days’ notice. Zimmermann said the county will use CARES Act money to pay the rent.

Zimmermann said the $500 per month rate was a bargain, considering other space nearby has an asking price of $750 per month.

Aldermen agreed that getting any money for the space is good.

“Five hundred dollars a month for something that’s sitting empty, and we wouldn’t have to worry about cleaning it or anything like that,” Alderman Bob Schmuke said.

For each new COVID-19 case, an average of 10 people – sometimes up to 40 – have to be contacted to alert them of potential exposure to limit them from exposing others.

Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker has said the county is in the process of hiring 10 additional contact tracers, but the pool of applicants is limited due to the strict criteria required to ensure patient privacy. The criteria include anyone currently studying public health, epidemiology, nursing or any other medical background.

Health Department Director Angie Hittson has said contact tracers average 20 to 50 phone calls per day.

Brinker said there also has been contact tracer turnover due to the workload and stress.