Starting last Friday, the Barton County Sheriff’s Office began delivering isolation and quarantine orders to the three Claflin residents who tested positive for COVID-19 and those with whom they came into contact, Barton County Health Officer Karen Winkelman told the County Commission Monday morning.
“This week we put in place isolation and quarantine orders,” said Winkelman as commissioners met virtually for the second straight week due to gathering limitations mandated by the state in response to the pandemic. “These have been delivered to the persons identified as the current cases and also their contacts.”
“The BCSO has assisted us in distribution of these orders,” she said. As of the end of the day on Saturday, deputies had distributed 33 documents with more to be delivered Monday.
According to state statutes, the health officer has broad powers to enact such enforcement. Also, according to state guidelines, violations of these orders are considered class C misdemeanors.
Sheriff Brian Bellendir has said such enforcement would fall to his office or the local police department. Officers can force the recipients of orders to comply.
In addition, penalties for violating the isolation and quarantine directives can bring up to 30 days in jail and/or a $50 fine. However, enforcement will be discretionary, and state and local officials are not wanting to resort to this.
Winkelman’s department had been required to contact all those who came within less than six feet for more than 10 minutes with a confirmed case. However, under new Kansas Department of Health and Environment rules, they have to look at individuals who they were around 48 hours prior to symptom onset.
“So, that opens up another huge window period that we’re having to look at,” she said. Now, officials have to go back to those who tested positive and expand their contact list.
“Our role is to protect and improve the people’s health in our communities, and a component of that work involves research, detecting, preventing and responding to infectious diseases. Some tough decisions have been made to ensure that this sort of this role is fulfilled to our greatest capacity,” she said. “And we believe that every decision made has been in the best interest of our community.”
“I’m going to paraphrase John Kennedy, ‘Ask not what your county can do for you, but what you can do for your county,’” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. “And I’m just saying your county is asking you to stay home. It’s that simple. We’re not asking you to go out and fight a war, we’re just asking you to stay home.”
If we can, “we can get through this a little quicker with less fallout.”
“I agree,” Winkelman said. Norman said this early on. The recommendations and decisions are made based on scientific evidence, and we shouldn’t try to look for ways to avoid them.
“You can say I’ve been really good. I haven’t gone out for five days, I just want to go out just a little bit,” Schartz said. But don’t and “just use common sense.”
In other developments
Meanwhile, at the Health Department, “we continue to do what we do. That has not changed from last week,” Winkelman said.
That was when she received notice of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the county.
“Last Monday, which was just a week ago, our numbers in the state of Kansas were 319 cases, with a total of six deaths. As of (Sunday) at noon, we were at 747 confirmed cases with 22 deaths,” she said. “The age range that we’re seeing the highest percentage of confirmed cases is in the 20 to 44 age group, which comprises 28.8% of a confirmed.”
Kansas Health Secretary Dr. Lee Norman believes this age range is comprised of a lot of individuals that are performing essential functions, but he also feels that group wasn’t taking the restrictions seriously.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order mandating the stay-at-home restrictions remains in place until April 19, and there is some discussion that may be extended, she said.
“Her order brought about a lot of confusion and questions in regards to what is essential and what is non essential across the state,” she said. A lot of health departments are communicating amongst themselves and trying to get some of those questions clarified the answer.
The Kansas Essential Function Framework addresses this. Individuals or businesses can put out a request for information to be reviewed to see if therapy essential or non essential. And that was continues to be updated daily, and it’s open to the public.
Also, the Barton County emergency order that was put into place on March 27 that prohibits public gatherings of 10 or more people in attendance, or even an anticipated attendance of more than 10, is still in place, Winkelman said.
Testing supplies continue to be in short supply, she said.
“We continue to work very closely with all of our partners, local, state, county, and on and on,” she said. They have been coordinating with Emergency Management, on getting the supplies ordered, and distribution of this personal protective equipment and supplies.
“The state is looking at a new methodology that they would have been tasked to testing and get results in about 45 minutes,” she said. “However, those are not in place yet, but we’re getting really close.” Private labs are performing over half of the testing being done so that has taken a lot of weight off of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment lab.
Responding to a question from Commissioner Jim Daily, Winkelman said they have been responding to some rumors, if they appear to be credible. We do try to address any complaints,issues or concerns that are brought to our attention.”
All they can do is encourage the stay-at-home orders and obey isolations, she said.
A team effort
“All of our staff at the Health Department is involved in this pandemic work in one way or another,” she said. “And at the same time, they’re keeping up with the essential functions that are required of our department which includes chapter licensing, WIC services and family planning services. Our social worker has been addressing some of the needs in the community that individuals are facing due to this quarantine also.”
They continue to monitor the staff and clients as they come in we continue to provide services as an appointment basis only, she said. “We have been working extra hours as nurses work Saturday morning and Saturday night we had a call from KDHE epidemiology, that we needed to gather more information to help them work on a suspect case that asked our community, nursing staff, most of our attention has been focused on contact investigation and making follow up with those people.”
A few specimens this past week were obtained as part of the investigation process by staff at the Barton County Health Department. “We take that very seriously and at this time, we have plans to collect specimens outside of our department walls to make it safe for employees.”
Also, “all employees involved in the collection of specimens have the appropriate personal protective equipment in place,” Winkelman said.
“We’re just stay current on all of this,” she said. “We are attending webinars meetings conference calls.”
“Inside and outside our department walls,I work with an incredible group of people, all walks, all times,” she said. “We’ve all come together and are finding this unbelievable. I’m proud to work alongside of each and every person. And I know that we will get through this together. Again, I appreciate all of your support.”