A motion to change the Barton County Board of Health’s policy on quarantine recommendations for close contacts of COVID-19 positive cases failed on a 3-2 vote Monday morning, but those who supported the motion succeeded in sending a message: People who receive a quarantine recommendation should follow the mandates set by their employers when it comes to returning to work.
The Barton County Commission met as the Board of Health with one “new business” item on its agenda: to “consider COVID-19 restrictions as (they) relate to quarantine length recommendations.” At present, the county continues to trace close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases and recommends a 14-day quarantine. The sheriff’s office no longer delivers quarantine orders, however.
Commissioner Kirby Krier noted that the discussion was not about those who test positive. He made the motion:
“For persons employed within the boundaries of Barton County, Kansas, should any person be in close contact, that being defined as being within 6 feet for at least a period of 10 minutes or having direct contact with infectious secretions of a positive case, that person shall first, follow the mandates of his/her employer in reference to work attendance and second, in the event the employer has no such guidelines, that person shall take a common-sense approach that will include:
• Self monitoring for a recommended period of 15 days;
• Use of a mask while working indoors or within 6 feet of other person or persons; and
• Use all universal precautions available (washing hands, coughing into sleeve, etc.)”
The original motion had the “self-monitoring” period as seven days, but Krier amended it to 14 and then to 15 days.
Krier and commissioner Shawn Hutchinson voted in favor of the motion. It failed with commissioners Jennifer Schartz, Jim Daily and Barb Esfeld voting against it.
Rand Paul on natural immunity
Before introducing his motion, Krier asked the board to watch a YouTube video of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) chastising the Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra over the vaccine mandate during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing to examine school reopenings during COVID-19 (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ml1W0k0yaJk). Sen. Paul cited what he said was an Israeli study of 2.5 million patients that shows people vaccinated against COVID-19 are seven times more likely to get infected than people who had COVID before and recovered but who did not get vaccinated. “This isn’t an argument against the vaccine, but it’s an argument for letting people make a decision who already have immunity,” Paul said.
According to Science.org, the analysis Paul was citing relies on the database of Maccabi Healthcare Services, which enrolls about 2.5 million Israelis. Studies actually involved groups of various sizes. For more information see https://www.science.org/content/article/having-sars-cov-2-once-confers-much-greater-immunity-vaccine-vaccination-remains-vital
Krier said the 2-minute video was shown to help show what Barton County Health Department Director Karen Winkelman “has to put up with,” because COVID safety measures are extremely politicized. “Karen has worked so hard and diligently about getting vaccinations,” he said. “It just shows you that there’s a lot of different opinions out there.”
A proclamation on essential workers
Krier next read a proclamation he wanted the board to adopt. However, it was decided that it should not be introduced at that time because it wasn’t on the agenda.
The proclamation’s title is, “Declaration of Essential Workers in Barton County, Kansas.” It states, in part, that, “each current position of each business in Barton County, as well as any positions created from growth, are hereby declared to be essential.”
It was agreed that this could be placed on the agenda of a future board meeting.
Chairman Daily said the Board of Health “has always been able to rely upon the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and their guidance, along with the CDC and their guidance.” One thing those organizations have studied is “how long it takes for this particular disease to manifest itself, to bring itself to incubation period.”
Daily continued, “It’s not uncommon for people to have had a shot, and still get the disease. My brother-in-law just died last Friday, from a COVID-related incident; he was 80 years old. He had other medical issues and stuff. But this particular problem put him in the hospital.”
Health Director Winkelman was asked for her opinion on the motion.
“Well, I think you know where I stand, from the meeting in September,” Winkelman said, referring to a meeting where she said she still supports the current recommendation. “I continue to follow KDHE guidance and recommendations. ... You know where I stand, from last time.”
Commissioner Hutchinson spoke next:
“Mr. chairman, I think it’s really important and I hope the media catches what I’m about to say. The Health Department and the KDHE’s quarantine guidelines for contact tracing are only recommendations. So that means that there (are) no ramifications if someone chooses not to follow the recommendations of KDHE or the Barton County Health Department of the Barton County Board of Health here.
“It’s very important that everybody understands that. And this has nothing to do with COVID positives. COVID-positive quarantines are 10 days, or 72 hours without a fever, whichever is longer. This wouldn’t change that. This is basically just saying, ‘Hey, we can disagree on the recommended time of quarantine for contact tracing,’ but at the end of the day, it’s just a recommendation.”
Sheri Tubach, MPH, MS, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Response Section of KDHE, was at the meeting via a remote link.
Commissioner Schartz supported following Winkelman’s recommendations. “She is following what has been prescribed as being the best recommendations ...
“And we sat here and listened to Sheri (Tubach) say a couple of weeks ago that a 14-day quarantine is necessary. A 10-day quarantine will get 80% of the people (who will get COVID during the incubation period) and in 14 days we’ll catch the other 20%.”
At that point, Krier amended his motion of the recommended self-monitoring time from seven days to 14 days, then 15 days.
“How is that different than what we have in place right now?” Schartz asked.
“Basically (the motion) allows the employer to know that they have the authority to do what they want,” Krier said.
“But they have all along,” Schartz said.
“They don’t know that,” Krier said. “This motion will tell that to the public.”
Audience members also spoke to the board, Cathy Anderson commented on the success area schools had last year by following recommendations, including the 14-day quarantine. “Now we have a variant that’s actually more transmissible, and we’re trying to deviate from those recommendations.”
Board members noted that schools now set their own rules, but Anderson said that was an example.
“I’m confused as to why we’re trying to reinvent the wheel when the wheel worked so well last year,” she said.
“Because I have a lot of people, employers, that are losing workers,” Krier said.
Hutchinson said the purpose is to help employers keep employees working. He gave an example of an employee at the landfill who did not test positive but who was a close contact. The employee was allowed to work but was assigned to a compactor, apart from others, during the quarantine period. “In fact, our director clocked them in and clocked them out. So they were still able to work.”
Other audience comments came from Michelle Rondeau, a retired nurse, and her husband, attorney Mark Rondeau, and from Preston Moore, a pharmacist who is Winkelman’s son-in-law, all speaking in favor of following the KDHE recommendations currently in place, as Winkelman also recommends.