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County doing utmost to report COVID-19 info
But, sometimes data changes, gets murky
covid-19 Barton

As the COVID-19 pandemic grinds on, Barton County Interim Health Director Karen Winkelman told the County Commission Monday morning that her department is doing its best to keep the public informed, despite some confusion around that information.

“We hear things in the community, saying ‘we know it’s COVID-related’ or ‘it’s not related’ or ‘they don’t know what they’re talking about,’” she said. Her office doesn’t make the call and they rely heavily on the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and on the opinions of attending physicians.

“I monitor a lot of different social media sites and I know some people really do get hung up on those numbers and they’re very adamant,” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. “I think people just need to realize that we’re doing the best we can with the information on any given day.”

“We’re being as transparent as possible, and sometimes those numbers will not match up because of delays and time or whatever reason,” Schartz said. “So I think we just need to reassure the public that we’re not trying to hide anything.”

“It’s in Barton County,” Winkelman said of the virus. “We’re doing the best that we can to get the information out quickly to protect the public and the first responders, but at the same time, the numbers look a little different.”  

Clearing the confusion

Making this challenging is seemingly conflicting information, Winkelman said. She used her report to clarify how data is collected and reported.

As of Monday morning, there were 46 confirmed positive active cases in the county, a number lower than 48 hours earlier because that individual is now out of isolation. “I think it warranted just a little clarification as to why those numbers go back and forth,” she said

“As far as Barton County, our update was released this morning at 9 a.m. (Monday),” Winkelman said. “And that reflects that we have seven active cases at this time, we have 46 confirmed positive and one death.”  

But, “If you put numbers side by side, 48 hours ago, we reported that we had active quarantine isolation orders totalling 58, and as of this morning we have 47,” she said. So even though there was an increase in cases, the number of orders and the number of county locations with positive cases have both gone down.

On Saturday, the county totals included a case from rural Ellinwood. But, it was later determined that the individual actually lived in Ellinwood.

“It looks like we’re being really confusing here with the information that we release,” she said of when the reports are viewed side by side. “So, the information going to look different today.” 

Secondly, she said the KDHE is no longer calling health departments on positive cases. “So, I have that fear of looking at the (KDHE) website someday and seeing our number had jumped and I didn’t release anything, or I wasn’t aware of it,” she said.

She and her staff track the state’s surveillance system pretty much 24-7 to make sure they don’t miss something.

Also, KDHE is recording probable and confirmed cases as one number, she said. A probable case is where an individual could live in a household with a confirmed case, and they have all the signs and symptoms, but they were not tested. 

“Therefore, that number will be reflected in our numbers of positive cases,” Winkelman said. “However, if that person decides to go get tested, and the result comes back negative, they’re subtracted from our positive cases. So again, there can be some number fluctuation.”

Reporting COVID-19 deaths

Lastly, she addressed COVID-related deaths. “An individual may have other coexisting morbidities, but if COVID was a contributing factor, or the cause of death, the authorizing physician is the person who makes that determination. They complete the death certificate and they submit it to the Vital Statistics Department,” she said.

Currently, they  are waiting to hear from the physician on an individual who had tested positive in the past and has passed away.

“I do want to extend my condolences to those families that deal with possible COVID-related deaths, because this can be a very trying time, and a very difficult situation for them,” Winkelman said. “It is just as disheartening to me when I hear conversations or I receive criticism that people are impatient because they want the numbers quickly. I’m not going to jump on numbers quickly and give out wrong information or information that I don’t believe to be accurate.”

A change in procedure

Commissioner Jim Daily could not understand why the state has stopped calling with case numbers and asked Winkelman why this was.

This is because of the case load at the state level, she said. And, KDHE does take local reports and compile them into its tracking system, expecting local officials to follow it. 

“It makes it hard,” she said.

All health-care facilities have the ability to utilize the state’s web portal to report suspected COVID-19 cases, she said. This is a mandated reportable infection and it has to be reported within four hours.

“However, in our county, I have asked the medical facilities to go a step further and fax me the record or fax me a note,” she said. She also has one facility that sends her a text message.

This all gives her a heads up to check the state system. 

Regardless of who reports the case, it falls to the Health Department to do the investigation and contact tracing, she said.

 “That’s why I rely heavily on the ordering physicians and the facilities to give me that information,” she said. Sunday night, she was alerted to a 7-month-old baby that was positive.

“Needless to say we’ve gotten those results that quickly,” she said. And Monday morning, she was notified of a 3-month-old who’s been tested. 

“I think with that said, we sometimes get tied up in the numbers,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, the public has the right to that information, but I think we are all needing to be responsible for our actions and preventing the spread.

“We know it’s here, whether it’s rural Ellinwood, whether it’s in the city of Ellinwood,” she said of COVID-19. “To some that may be important, but I think we need to look at the whole picture.”

And so it continues

“Since some of the restrictions have been lifted and people are out and about a little bit more, have you seen any increase, or is it too early to say?” Daily said.

“I would say that we have seen some increase in testing and there have been symptomatic individuals,” Winkelman said. But, these are not reflected in the county’s numbers, even though they have to be treated as a positive case until proven otherwise.

“We are going to continue the screening of our staff daily,” she said. “I feel like we are on the front line of it, and we need to protect our staff, and also the clients coming in for services.”

They are also screening clients at the time of service. “We will still be providing services by appointment only so that if we have a big surge, and duties that we can call those people ahead of time and tell them we need to reschedule them,” she said.  

They are also continuing with the extra disinfecting and sanitizing of the office. 

Winkelman said they are continuing with the drive-through testing on Tuesday on Wednesday mornings north of the Sheriff’s Office. She reached out Monday to Kansas Department of Health and Environment for some contact tracing help. “I think we are at the point that we really need to call upon them.”

She has had preliminary requests amid some confusion with the requesting process, but now she feels it would be very helpful. She hoped that help would be available Monday.

As for her recommendations on wearing a mask, “if you’re in an area where you can’t social distance and there’s going to be a possible mass gathering, I would advise to wear one,” Winkelman said.

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

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

• Heard a report from Interim County Health Director Karen Winkelman on COVID-19.

• Approved applying for a Reinvestment Grant to fund the Family Engagement and Advocacy Program at the 20th Judicial District Juvenile Services department.

Juvenile Services has applied for the grant to continue the program, Juvenile Services Director Marissa Woodmansee said. This program is designed to provide a strength-based and solution focused approach with parents and youth who are facing criminal charges or have been adjudicated as an offender.

“By recognizing the important role families can play in the supervision and rehabilitation of the identified at risk population, program goals are to change the culture of ‘us versus them’ and start building cooperative relationships,” she said.

• Approved replacing a vehicle for Juvenile Services. Purchased was a 2018 Dodge Caravan from Marmies for $13,900.

The agency requested bids for a new or used program minivan. The bid included the trade of a 2013 Dodge Caravan with over 100,000 miles. 

The replacement vehicle will be used to travel the five-county district for all youth supervised by Juvenile Services, as well across the state for mandatory field visits for all youth in custody, Woodmansee said. There are resources available as a replacement vehicle was included in this year’s budget.

• Approved the repair of concrete damage to a box culvert on NW 150 Road Box between NW 50 Avenue and NW 60 Avenue. 

A vehicle left the roadway and struck a concrete wing on the south side of a box culvert on April 27, County Engineer Barry McManaman said. L & M Contractors Inc. of Great Bend submitted an $8,980 quote to repair the damage.  

As records indicate the vehicle was not insured, the commission will be asked to seek the recovery of the cost through a claim against the driver, County Counselor Patrick Hoffman said.

This wasn’t the only problem with the culvert, McManaman said. It also has some pre-existing damage and deterioration on the north side of the road.

McManaman requested a separate quote from L & M Contractors to repair the problem areas. The quote was $4,835 and it was approved as well.