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Community COVID-19 testing may come to Barton County
County officials in talks with state health agency
covid-19 tracing graphic
This graphic provided by the Barton County Health Department outlines the process taken to investigate cases of COVID-19.

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:

• Heard a COVID-19 update from County Health Officer Karen Winkelman.

• Learned a Great Bend man was arrested and jailed for violating a COVID-19 quarantine order and causing disturbances in the community.

Barton County is in talks with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to bring COVID-19 testing to the Health Department, Interim Health Director Karen Winkelman said Monday morning.

“We started a conversation with KDHE last week on some community testing,” she said, giving an update to the County Commission on efforts to fight the novel coronavirus. “I would like to see community testing.”

This would be done via a drive-though clinic by Health Department personnel, she said, addressing commissioners in person as they met virtually. A person would have to be symptomatic to be eligible for the tests.

But, she stressed that this is strictly in the preliminary stages. The ultimate decision is made at the state level based on making sure adequate testing is available statewide.

“I know there’s a lot of pressure out there from people wanting to know the number of cases in our community,” she said. People are also asking about the antibody, or perhaps have had mild symptoms and don’t have the ability to be tested. 

“So I did contact KDHE last week and started that conversation. I wanted to see what it would look like for Barton County,” she said. The state health agency has a group of people trained in contact investigation and contact tracing that it will deploy.

“This was one of my big worries as far as staffing at the Health Department was to be able to do all that, if we did open up community testing,” she said. The state team could alleviate some of that workload.

Winkelman would like to do this just for Barton County. But, some of the discussion at the state level involves regional testing. 

“So we might possibly reach out to some of our surrounding counties and do a coordinated effort that hopefully would give us a little more insight as to what’s happening in our community and those surrounding us,” she said.

Commissioner Jennifer Schartz asked if tests were becoming more readily available.

“The actual material that we started with is still in short supply,” she said. She was referring to the medium that they have to put the swabs into for testing.

However, “swabs are becoming more plentifully available.”

The problem was the liquid medium. But now, labs are telling health professions that they can use saline solutions.

“That opens up a lot of supplies,” she said. “If we were chosen to do this community testing, the state would work with us on securing supplies.”

The hospitals in Barton County do specimen collection and those are sent to private labs or to the KDHE lab. Health departments are the state lab’s priority as far as testing, because they work so closely with the agency.

It can take days for hospital test results to be known.

Even the swab tests done by the Health Department would have to be sent off for evaluation. There was a possibility of tests that would produced results in 45 minutes, but those will likely not be available.

As for the cost, that is unknown at this time, as is who will pay for the individuals’ testing.