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County gets COVID-19-fighting funds from feds
Nurses racking up OT investigating COVID-19 cases
covid-19 Barton

In a bit of good news in the ongoing battle against COVID-19, Barton County Health Officer Karen Winkelman said Kansas received coronavirus supplemental funding as part of the Preparedness and Response Appropriations Act. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is taking that total sum and awarding 30% of it to the local health departments, including $16,334 to Barton County for pandemic preparedness and response activities. 

“Some of the things that they had said that we can use that on our overtime wages, testing supplies, cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, and also shipping and transport costs for tests,” she said, updating county commissioners meeting Monday morning at the Courthouse. The money has to be used by Feb. 28 of next year. 

The timing is good, she said. She and her staff are spending a lot of time investigating disease cases.

“When I looked back at nursing hours, these past two weeks, we have three nurses who are hourly,” she said. For three nurses, the department had 28 and a half overtime hours in that span. 

“That’s a lot, and that’s not counting the conversations we have in the evenings and running things by each other,” she said. “So, there are a lot of overtime hours.”

This means the county could burn through that $16,000 pretty quickly. “I got all excited when I saw that amount and then I started thinking things through and it won’t take long.”

The state did reach out to the county level with a survey over anticipated needs, which is going to be really hard to calculate, she said. KDHE will ask the federal government for more money, but there’s no promise that will happen.

“Again we work with all of our local county, state partners. It’s an uncharted territory,” she said.

Nice weather not always nice

“You know Saturday was a beautiful day and a lot of people were outside, which is good to see if they had been in their own yard, but it also brings together groups of people,” she said. “I’m not looking forward to the next 14 days, because we certainly could see some of that in our (case) numbers.”

A week ago, there were 747 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state of Kansas. As of Sunday, there were 1,337. There have been 56 deaths, 34 in a week, and 290 hospitalizations.

The age group with the most positive cases in Kansas is now in those 55 to 64. Of the total positive test results, 23% are performed at the Kansas Department of Health lab and 76% are being performed at private labs. 

Several outbreaks across the state have been identified in long-term care facilities, group-living settings, correctional facilities, church gatherings and some private companies.

There remain just four confirmed cases in Barton County, with no deaths. So far, 50 isolation quarantine orders have been delivered in the county in the Barton County Sheriff’s Office 

“We continue to have daily updates with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to keep us up to date on things,” she said. “It also gives us an opportunity as health department staff to ask questions and clarifications and support each other through this.”

Challenging changes

On Friday, KDHE noted testing supplies are still limited. 

But, the big change was in case definition, Winkelman said. “In the disease investigation world we have confirmed cases and we have probable cases.”

Confirmed cases are people who have tested positive, so they’ve had very specific instructions. But, on Friday, they added another classification – probable. 

“What that means is that these are people who have been identified as a contact of the laboratory-confirmed case,” she said. “These people have been in quarantine, but now they’re starting to show symptoms.”

So, the Health Department has conduct contact investigations for them as well, “which is going to be huge for us to take that on,” she said. 

Winkelman said KDHE is offering pre-recorded training for contact and case investigation so health departments that are bringing more staff if needed.

The symptoms continue to be chills fever fatigue sore throat cough difficulty breathing, and there’s been a lot of talk about loss of taste. There are now 10 possible symptoms, including pink eye. 

The more symptoms there are, the more challenging it become since the number of people showing signs gets larger. “The more symptoms they come up, with the more investigation you’re going to have to do,” she said.  

Winkelman and her nurses may be getting a little more sleep as they settle into this new normal. But, it is far from easy.

“Each nurse is different responsible for different programs, and yet we all have to have knowledge of each other’s programs,” she said. “Disease investigation was part of what I did, and I felt comfortable with that,” she said. “But the other nurses didn’t have direct knowledge of that they’ve been thrown in and they’re doing amazing. So, working together moving forward, understanding and having that communication and support from the KDHE is huge.”

Masks or no masks

“Masks were a big topic last week,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of individuals step forward and ask about homemade masks.”

On the KDHE website, there is guidance on when and how they should be used, and how they should be made. 

“We have to think of wearing a mask out in public as ‘my mask protects you.’ Because if I cough or sneeze, that mask will protect others around you,” she said.

But, “you also need to think that the mask, your mask, protects me.” So, if somebody has a mask on in a grocery store, that person is also protecting you in areas where maybe you can’t social distance.

“I heard all the news that everybody should just pretend they inhabit and stay home, and then that solves that problem,” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said.

Winkelman nodded in agreement.