By Deb Hadachek Telescope News
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Republic County Commissioners stopped short of mandating masks in public spaces in Republic County, but recommended people wear masks as outlined by Kansas Governor Laura Kelly’s order that went into effect at midnight July 3.
Businesses and government offices can require that customers wear masks. Food Mart Thriftway and Dollar General in Belleville are among businesses locally that are signed asking customers to wear masks.
“If you go into a business and they require you to wear a mask you need to wear a mask,” said Commission Chair Melvin Jeardoe.
Law enforcement officers said there have never been intentions to make arrests if people do not wear a mask.
However, a customer who becomes disruptive regarding the business’s requirements could find themselves at risk for a charge of arrest for disorderly conduct, they said.
County health director Danielle Swanson said three new positive COVID cases were confirmed Thursday afternoon, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the county to 15, “and it’s not slowing down.”
Swanson said some of the people who tested positive are asymptomatic and a younger population; however cases in recent days have been older and with underlying conditions that could make the effects of the disease worse.
“(Some people) report that they are wiped out, it’s the worst they’ve ever felt, that they thought about calling and going to the hospital but they’re not there yet,” she said.
“This is hard,” she told commissioners on whether to mandate masks. “On the health side I have some great concerns. Right now we are in an outbreak, cases are climbing.
“A mask is a way to put a barrier between you and other people. I believe it could help us in slowing down what we’re seeing happening now.”
Swanson said that most people have been cooperative when asked to quarantine for 14 days because they have been in contact with a positive case. The health department makes regular calls to people who are quarantined to track their symptoms.
Swanson said federal health care privacy laws (HIPPA) prevent the release of names of people who test positive or who are quarantined. Citizens who believe someone might be violating a quarantine order can contact the Republic County Sheriff’s Office, but officials will not confirm or deny whether that person is quarantined. Names of people who violate quarantine orders are turned over to the Republic County Attorney for possible action.
The list of people quarantined is provided to Republic County Emergency Management, and dispatchers will warn emergency workers to take precautions if they are sent to an address under quarantine, said Emergency Manager Raymond Raney.
People who violate quarantine orders could face civil penalties. A person who tests positive for COVID-19 and knowingly continues to go out in public and expose other people could find themselves taken into custody, Swanson said.
Republic County Sheriff Ron Blad said violators will not be taken to Republic County Jail. “I don’t want to put the whole jail under quarantine,” he said. “People just need to be smart. This isn’t hard. Just be careful.”
Despite concerns that some people who initially test negative for COVID may later test positive. Swanson said the health department has only tested 10 or 15 people more than once.
Depending on the individual’s symptoms and availability of test kits, most swabs performed locally by the health department are sent to Republic County Hospital for rapid results. Hospital laboratory director Shawna Bowers purchased the necessary COVID test modules shortly after they became available, thanks to grants from the Republic County Community Foundation and the Salina Area United Way.
Bowers said the hospital’s equipment can detect active COVID cases with a high degree of accuracy.
Individuals with symptoms or exposure to a positive COVID case should contact the Republic County Health Department or their health care provider for directions on whether they should be tested.