SOUTH PORTLAND — Three temporary positions geared toward COVID-19 awareness in South Portland will be eliminated this week when the state grants funding them expire, including one focused on awareness in minority communities.

The city filled the position, described as “Covid-19 Outreach Specialist – Minority Populations,” in July, paid for in part by $294,000 in state grants. The job paid $18-$23 per hour for 20 hours a week, according to a job description. This week, City Manager Scott Morelli said city officials knew the grants were expiring Oct. 31 and there was no other way to keep the positions.

“We’d love for the state to extend the program, but unfortunately that’s not the case,” he said.

All of the positions, Morelli said, centered around public health education and awareness during the coronavirus pandemic, including public forums in local neighborhoods and similar campaigns. But Morelli said the city wanted one position to focus on minority communities in light of state and federal data indicating people of color are seeing a higher percentage of positive tests for the disease.

“We wanted to try to get inroads into some of the communities that were at higher risk,” he said.

Morelli said he did not have data to indicate how successful the outreach specialist was, but noted a recent event in Redbank Village had 40 people in attendance, which, he said, was an indicator that outreach was having an impact.

“We certainly hope that the program had the success that we intended,” he said.

Margaret Brownlee, a member of South Portland’s newly formed Human Rights Commission, said in July that hiring a minority outreach coordinator could benefit the local Black community, saying, “I think it’s great that they’re doing that.”

This week, Brownlee said she was concerned about the population in general going into the winter months, as new data from the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests a rising number of cases.

“It seems that people are just a little bit less strict about observing COVID procedures,” she said.

But the commission, she said, is meeting for the first time next week and will be focusing on basic tasks such as choosing officers, but the group will soon get to work advising the city on issues impacting minorities in the city.

When asked if COVID awareness and outreach will be one of those topics, she replied, “Definitely.”

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