CARES grants available for Clay businesses

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Small businesses in Dilworth, Hawley, Barnesville and other Clay County communities may apply for grants to offset losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic starting Monday, Aug. 17.

Clay County commissioners Jenny Mongeau and Kevin Campbell updated the board at Tuesday’s meeting on plans to distribute the $2.25 million of the county’s CARES Act funding that is being set aside to aid small businesses employing from two to 20 workers. While discussions were continuing Wednesday (after The Extra’s deadline), the two members said that the county’s framework will parallel the process developed by the city of Moorhead, which in turn follows the structure of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Small Business Economic Relief Grants last spring.

The county’s CARES committee will award grants of up to $10,000 to small businesses and up to $3,000 for certain kinds of sole proprietorships, including home day cares and businesses with established locations. Applicants can submit applications online beginning at 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 17.

Aid to small businesses is one of six priorities for distribution of the county’s funds. The others areas include community resiliency, $750,000; public health outreach and service, $2 million; county infrastructure, $1.5 million; county reimbursement for COVID-19 responses, $1 million; and aid to small (under 200) communities, $86,161. The category of community resiliency includes $250,000 for community organizations, which chair Frank Gross said can include churches incorporated as 501(c)3 nonprofit corporations.

COVID case rate dips

Public health officer Kathy McKay reported that the Minnesota Department of Health’s latest statistics for the 14-day case rate of COVID-19 in Clay County has decreased from higher levels in July. The rate, 10.47 cases per 100,000 population, is being recommended by the state as one tool to help school districts determine the course of instruction when school begins in September – whether in-person, online or a hybrid version of education will be adopted.

“The Department of Health is looking for a case rate that’s consistently under 10 for full-time in-person instruction,” McKay told the board. The case rate, she pointed out, is a rolling target, evolving as each day’s numbers are reported. The Clay rate was 6 and 7 during May, but began rising in mid-June, reaching a high of 13.53 in July. She noted that the rate is “just one tool” for school administrators to use, along with preventive measures.

The health department is planning to conduct contract tracing and follow-up for cases reported after school begins, McKay said, noting that the department has recently added three more contact tracers standing by to assist as needed. She noted that the average median age of COVID victims in Clay County is currently 35 years of age, compared to 30 for the entire state. “It started out with the elderly,” she said, “but it’s circulating out there.”

The health officer said, “We see some challenges ahead with the influenza season. We will be providing influenza vaccine as soon as we get it. It’s always important to get vaccinated … but even more so this year. We want to get it out to the mass population before a COVID vaccine may possibly come around.”

“This is a hopeful situation,” commissioner Mongeau said, looking through the weekly report provided by the Health Department. “We’re going down in active cases. It’s good to hear a positive story.”

Commissioner Campbell added that the improving case rate is “indicative of what we as the public are doing to keep the virus from spreading.” He told of a recent shopping foray: “Even in Fargo, the mask rate seemed to be about 95%. In our metropolitan area, the preventive measures are working. Seeing the numbers moving in a positive direction is our reward for what we’re having to put up with.”

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