SOUTH PORTLAND — The city is surveying residents to learn how well it has responded to COVID-19 so far and what more needs to be done as the pandemic wears on and intensifies.

The survey is funded through the city’s $530,000 Keep Maine Healthy grant – federal money passed through by the state that allowed the city to mobilize additional staff, supplies and programming to educate the public, promote social distancing and support businesses.

About 800 residents have responded to the online survey that started Oct. 28 and ends Wednesday. City Manager Scott Morelli said he’s pleased with the response but hopes even more residents fill out the 8-minute questionnaire in the next few days.

“This survey is one of the best ways for South Portland’s decision-makers to understand how COVID-19 has affected both the physical and mental health of our residents, as well as their financial situation,” Morelli said.

Exactly how the city’s future COVID response might be funded remains to the seen. The Keep Maine Healthy funding expires Dec. 11 and Congress has yet to allocate additional pandemic support to states.

The Mills administration allocated $9 million in Keep Maine Healthy funding to 96 municipalities in June and an additional $4 million to 82 municipalities and tribal governments in August. The idea was that local governments were best positioned to create and carry out effective COVID-19 education and prevention plans for residents and visitors.

In South Portland, the city established a four-member COVID team, headed by Josh Pobrislo, a full-time firefighter-paramedic who also serves as the local health officer for the city’s Board of Health. The team worked on a variety of public information campaigns and educational outreach efforts to business owners and residents, especially minority communities.

The team also investigated and responded to noncompliance complaints received through the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. The latter has a web page to report businesses, institutions or employers that aren’t complying with masking requirements or other COVID-19 mandates.

With the Keep Maine Healthy funding, Pobrislo has been working about 16 hours per week on the city’s COVID response and overseeing two deputy local health officers and a minority populations outreach specialist. The COVID team continues to receive noncompliance complaints, including 10 incidents registered with the state since Nov. 6.

When the funding runs out Dec. 11, the COVID team is set to disband and Pobrislo will resume working just eight hours per week on a wide variety of local health complaints, including hoarding investigations, septic spills, bedbug infestations and COVID noncompliance.

“My hope is the survey informs city officials that this role needs to expand. It can’t stop,” Pobrislo said.

The survey asks residents about their knowledge of COVID-19, how they get information, how well the city and other government agencies have responded to the pandemic, and how the pandemic has affected their behavior, physical health, relationships and mental health, among other things.

The survey is open to any South Portland resident and available in seven languages, including Arabic, French and Vietnamese.

“We hope to capture sometimes unheard voices,” Morelli said. “We encourage every resident to take this survey as it will inform how city government can better respond to their needs.”


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