The Barton County Commission agenda appeared on screens mounted in the commission chamber Monday morning.
Between commissioners, a small handful of county personnel and the media, the crowd was limited to 10, per state-mandated social distancing requirements, and those present were widely scattered around the room. County Administrator Phil Hathcock routinely took a head count to make sure that number wasn’t exceeded.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the commission held the crowd to a minimum while streaming the meeting virtually. “This is the new normal,” County Clerk Donna Zimmerman said.
“Every day is different,” agreed county Health Officer Karen Winkelman, giving an update on the county’s response to the novel coronavirus. “It is a very challenging situation.”
Case in point, when she addressed the commission Monday morning, there were no confirmed COVID-19 cases in Barton County. But, that changed a matter of hours later when an pending test confirmed the first case, a 60-year-old patient with a travel history.
The individual had been under self quarantine at home and was expected to make a full recovery.
Also, the last she time updated commissioners was 10 days ago. At that time, there were 44 confirmed case, but as of Monday, there were around 370 and eight deaths.
“We all have to pretend that everybody is suspect,” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. “This is not the time to let guards down. People just need to be vigilant.”
A busy couple of weeks
“At the Barton County Health Department, a lot has happened in the last 10 days,” Winkelman said. “But, our doors do continue to be open.”
Her staff is being screened upon arrival to work, and so is anyone entering the building. They also continue to listen to webinars and broadcasts to state up to date.
Medical providers are reporting to the department when there is a suspect case. By law, they have to be notified within four hours.
With such cases, the staff is contacting the individual to find out where they have been in the past 14 days and who they have been in contact with, she said.
“Once we start seeing positive results, our focus will be more on looking at the potential exposed people,” she said. This includes possible isolation and quarantine.
“There was one occasion where the KDHE identified a hot spot in our community of illnesses,” she said. “Under their direction, we did go out and collect samples.”
Although negative for coronavirus, she said it was a good learning experience.
“We are working closely with emergency management on getting supplies,” she said. “We are also making sure that all of our providers in the county have access to testing. We do not want any barriers to exist.”
Working with partners at all levels, from locally to the feds, “the support has been phenomenal,” she said.
Dr. Lee Norman, state health director, said in an update last Friday that with the number of cases now, they can start to estimate projections for Kansas. As of now, it looks as if COVID-19 will peak in mid to late April.
Norman indicated the stay-at-home order will have to be evaluated every one to two weeks to see if it is still necessary, Winkelman said. “He just reiterated how important that social distancing is.”
“This has been a challenging time dealing with a lot of unknowns,” she said. “But our motto at the Health Department is ‘we are in this together,’ and I hear that across the state and across the nation.”
There are a limited supply of test kits available in the county, she said. “We are trying to look at how we can fill that need for medical providers that may not have access.”
“I really appreciate all the work that everybody is doing at the county level to keep the county running,” Schartz said. “Our essential services are in place with very few limitations.”
She highlighted the Treasure’s Office’s drive-through annex at Broadway and Morton.
Getting to this point
On March 27, there was a very difficult decision made, and that was to issue a Barton County emergency order to place public gathering restrictions, she said. “This was made in light of the rapid spread across the state and that we needed to control public gatherings of 10 people or more.”
Then, as county across the state started struggling with different approaches and restrictions, there was more confusion and chaos,” she said. This prompted Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly Saturday to sign her statewide stay-at-home executive order effective Monday through April 19.
“She stated three reason in her order as to why she issued that,” Winkelman said. These included uniformity in response efforts, prevent the overwhelming of hospitals, and to buy the state some time as state officials work with the federal authorities to secure protective gear, other equipment and testing supplies.
The order also outlines what businesses and services are deemed essential, she said. It is up to the individual businesses to see when they fall within those guidelines.
Barton County Commission meeting at a glance
Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:
• Heard an update from Barton County Health Officer Karen Winkelman on COVID-19.
• Approved the 2020 blacktop road paint striping program.
The Road and Bridge Department received a quote from Straight Line Striping Inc. of Grand Island Neb., in reference to striping approximately 105 miles of county roads in the northwest part of the county. The estimated cost, at no more than $95,000, was included in the 2020 Road and Bridge Budget as an expected operating expense, said County Works Director Darren Williams.
This was up about $30 per mile over last year. The county has contracted with the company for several years.