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County adapting to COVID-19 response changes
County positivity rate higher than state
covid-19 Barton

It’s been over half a year since COVID-19 was first reported in Barton County, Health Director Karen Winkelman said. In that time, what is known about the potentially lethal virus and how officials respond to it has evolved.

“Our very first COVID case was recorded to us on March 30 of 2020,” she said, in an update before the County Commission Monday morning. “And as of this morning, seven months later, we are at 695 positive cases that we have investigated.”

There have also been seven deaths attributed to COVID-19, with more pending confirmation from the attending physicians. 

“The state provides us with a positivity rate in Barton County, and that positivity rate is used in various ways,” she said. That is defined as the number of positive cases in a week’s time frame. 

This rate has varied, but Barton County sits at 18.52% with the state at 8.49%. “So our numbers have gone up in the positive direction,” she said.

These rates are intended as a guideline for different entities, she said. These include long-term care facilities, that use them to dictate how often they have to test in their facility staff and residents, and schools, that use them for decision making.

“The information that I’ve shared with you, and the guidance and recommendations that we follow at the Barton County Health Department, are provided by Kansas Department of Health and Environment,” Winkelman said. “We rely very heavily on the KDHE. They are experts in the subject matter, and they provide support and recommendations to the local level.”

The more things change

“We’ve talked about community spread, which basically means it’s out there – we know it’s out there,” Winkelman said. “We all know what measures to take to try to mitigate spread and to lower the risks,” such as wearing face coverings and remaining socially distant.

Due to evolving knowledge and recommendations, the county did amend its quarantine recommendations slightly, she said. 

Isolation orders have still remained the same, she said. “We provide isolation orders to anyone who presents with signs and symptoms and has a pending test result.”

And those individuals who are positive also get that isolation order delivered by Barton County Sheriff’s Office deputies. These individuals must be isolated for 10 days from the onset of signs and symptoms.

However, what are now recommended quarantines are mailed, she said, emphasizing these are recommended. These are letters mailed to those that identified as close contacts to someone who has a positive case.

The quarantine time frame is 14 days from the date of the last potential exposure, she said. 

“This weekend, I learned that perhaps KDHE is coming out with the new guidelines on Wednesday,” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said.

“That’s possible,” Winkelman said. She gets updates several times each week, the last one coming last Friday afternoon.

“There was some indication, very minimal indication, that there may be some changes coming in the quarantine recommendations,” she said. However, they can only follow the guidelines that are in place at any given time.

“As more and more is learned about COVID and the actions that we need to take, we adapt in our office for that, too,” she said.