‘We Need To Work Together To Stop The Spread’

Hospital, School Officials Plead With The Public To Take Covid Risk Seriously

By Deb Hadachek Telescope News
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Republic County officials confirmed more positive Covid-19 cases in the first 15 days of November–98–as the entire preceding nine-month period.

The sense of anxiety from local health and school officials about the need to control the virus was evident at the Republic County Commission meeting Monday.

Monday night Republic County reported 68 active cases and no hospitalizations.

“We are matching the same amount of case rates per 1,000 (people) as Saline County,” Republic County Health Director Danielle Swanson told Republic County Commissioners Monday morning. “For our size of population, that’s not good.”

Swanson reported to commissioners from her home via Zoom, as did county attorney Justin Ferrell.

“We need the community’s help,” agreed Republic County Hospital infection control director Dawn Kasl. “We’ve (more than) doubled our number of cases in the last couple of weeks, and we have 80 tests pending.

“We need to work together to keep this from spreading.”

County commissioners on Monday mandated masks for employees and public in county buildings whenever social distancing is not possible. The board stopped short of a county-wide mandate but said “We highly encourage the use of masks. It is up to each business if they require masks for customers who enter their stores.”

Kasl was accompanied to the commission meeting by hospital CEO Dan Kelly and COO Brent Martin. Also present in person were board president Brian McCartney, representing USD 109, and Pike Valley Superintendent Steve Joonas.

Kasl contended that the hospital and local schools “are the safest place in the county” because of the protocols that are in place.

“We expect our students to be responsible,” said Swanson. “We should expect that of everyone else in the county.”

School officials said that to date, they believe the virus has not spread in the schools. People who tested positive were exposed elsewhere in the community, they said.

Threaten services

However, both health care and school officials say their ability to provide services is threatened by the number of staff members under quarantine or ill. Ambulance director Jeff Beikmann said at least half of his staff of EMTs are affected, and the remaining staff is working 70 to 100-hour weeks.

The hospital has cross-trained employees in different departments, and staff is helping each other out as they can, Kasl said. The hospital has four isolation rooms set aside for Covid patients; one day last week all four were in use. The hospital continues to provide regular outpatient clinic services, she said. “But if things continue to blow up like they are, we will have to make some decisions.”

Martin said it is difficult to transfer critically ill patients to intensive care facilities, both for Covid and non-Covid reasons. Staff may make a dozen to 14 calls before they can secure a transfer to another facility, he said.

“You don’t have to have Covid to feel the impact,” he said.

“For the next 90 to 120 days, we need to get everybody to step up to help us get through this,” said Kelly, who said he is optimistic about national reports of vaccine trials. “I’m a realist. In the last two weeks our resources have gotten spread about as thin as they can,” he said. “We’re struggling through, and I couldn’t be prouder of the hospital staff, but we really want everybody to double down to stop this spread.”

Last Wednesday, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment identified the Belleville Healthcare Center as one of numerous nursing homes in the state as a cluster site, with 17 confirmed cases. KDHE updates information on clusters every Wednesday.

Swanson said Monday that the health department has identified clusters and outbreaks in businesses in the last two weeks.

“We’re testing an average of 20 people per day,” she said. “There are lots of pending tests because the labs are taking forever because of the amount of people we have to test (statewide) right now.”

Monday afternoon the Pike Valley district put out a plea for parents or community members to serve as classroom monitors to help teachers who are quarantined but still want to teach by Zoom.

“As we try to keep kids learning in school in a structured learning environment, we are calling on any parents or community members who would be willing to monitor classrooms if teachers/staff go into quarantine,” said a Facebook post from principal Jeremy Miller.

Republic County USD 109 did not have school Friday as staff assessed their strategy in the face of rising numbers in the community. The district decided to continue with in-person learning this week in an attempt to make it to the full week of Thanksgiving break beginning November 23.

Superintendent Larry Lyder applauded staff members “for pitching in, taking on different duties and sometimes additional responsibilities to make it possible for us to continue in person learning for our students.”

But Lyder said parents need to brace for the possibility of full remote learning for students “if the community does not pull together and help slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Not obeying orders

Officials said that people who violate quarantine orders inflate risk to the public.

“It’s a problem,” Swanson said. “We’ve had several violations in just the last week.”

Joonas said he received a phone call last week about an individual in quarantine spotted out in the community without a mask.

“It’s discouraging, but I can’t do anything about that,” he said. “That’s what we’re fighting.”

County Attorney Justin Ferrell said that it is a misdemeanor crime to violate an isolation order. “I think it’s time we started to enforce that,” he said. “That kind of behavior is going to continue to increase what we’re seeing right now. It is very important that people who are quarantined or test positive stay home.”

He said a mask mandate is a civil action, and law enforcement can write tickets to violators. Cloud County issued a mask mandate on Monday, and other counties are considering similar measures, he said.

Kansas Covid Map and Case Count By The New York Times

COVID-19 Cases in Kansas