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County resident airs quarantine concerns
County officials emphasize blanket orders not issued
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Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

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

• Approved a revision to a 2019 resolution allowing county funds to be pooled and invested. 

Under the revision, two employees of the Treasurer’s Office would be added as persons “authorized to transfer funds for investment in the Municipal Investment Pool (MIP) and are each authorized to withdraw funds, to issue letters of instruction, and to take all other actions deemed necessary or appropriate for the investment of funds.”

• Approved the Central Kansas Community Corrections fiscal year 2021 carry-over reimbursement plan budget. The total amount carried over was $61,449.

• Approved the Juvenile Services fiscal year 2021 carry-over budget. The total was 65,104.65.

• After receiving requests for proposal for a SPARK micro-grant program project administrator, approved contracting with Golden Belt Community Foundation to handle the non-profit entities that apply and the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce to handle the for-profit businesses.

• Approved a host of computer/security for hardware for network upgrades at the courthouse, Sheriff’s Office, Detention Facility and Health Department. The contract went to Nex-Tech for $68,526.18.

County Administrator Phil Hathcock said this is welcomed since the courthouse phone system is on the verge of failure. Grant funds should cover the cost of the project, he added.

• Heard comments from county resident Eric Hoffman who was concerned about the method used to issue quarantine orders related to COVID-19.

Although he tried not to disparage the efforts of the Barton County Health Department in tracking positive COVID-19 cases, county resident Eric Hoffman likened the resulting quarantine orders to “house arrest” issued without due process. He also admonished the public to understand how the reporting process works.

Hoffman aired his grievances before the County Commission Monday morning. His main concern centered on “blanket quarantines” based on the word of someone testing positive.

However, Karen Winkelman, health director and health officer, assured him that her staff undertakes detailed, time-consuming investigations. She bristled at the notion this work is taken lightly.

County Administrator Phil Hathcock said such blanket orders are not given, and hours are spent tracing contacts. Both he and Winkelman had spoken with Hoffman on the phone Sunday.

“I’m here to talk to you about what I feel is an injustice to law-abiding, hardworking citizens of this county, and it’s dealing with COVID quarantines,” Hoffman said. He didn’t want to argue the quarantines or masks, just how orders are implemented.

He didn’t know if commissioners and the public are aware of how this works. “Maybe we can all get on the same team to work together,” he said.

After his conversations with Hathcock and Winkelman, “I’d like to commend them, and thank them for giving me the opportunity to be heard and being open and receptive to my thoughts and ideas,” he said. 

“I guess my plea is more to the public to really realize what’s taking place,” Hoffman said. “I just want to raise awareness. Nobody wants this virus to be here. We all want our lives to go back to normal and to be safe.”

Venting concerns

“I’m not here to cast blame. I’m not here to personally attack anybody,” he said. But, he objected to the processes set forth by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment which are followed by Health Department.

Hypothetically speaking, he said if he tested positive and was contacted by health officials asking who he had been in contact with, he could say everyone in the commission chamber.

“You are all issued quarantine orders and that is it, no questions asked. No ifs ands or buts. You are on house arrest, because that’s basically what it is for the next 14 days,” he said. “You’re not entitled due process. You’re not entitled to ask your accuser, you are entitled to nothing other than a piece of paper that says you can’t leave your residence for 14 days.

“I personally feel this is a problem, because, although the Health Department is doing the best that they can with information that they’re given, the information that they’re given is coming from people like me. I’m not a health professional. I’m not an epidemiologist. I’m not an expert.”

Admittedly, this was a little facetious. “But, I’m sure you can find parallels to everyday life.”

The quarantines are issued based on information from the public that may not be informed on CDC or KDHE protocols. “Some of the public may not be aware that the protocol is you have to be within six feet for more than 10 minutes,” he said.  

Some might be scared and feel they are doing the right thing. “And I don’t fault them,” he said. 

Still, “essentially what they’re being given indirectly is the power to quarantine anybody they want.”  

What about opting out?

“I’m glad that you can share your concerns,” Winkelman said. “However, I feel like you’re belittling some of our staff, because we have extensively trained on this case investigation. We don’t blanket. If you walked in here and you were positive and you said this whole room was quarantine, you would be asked many questions.”

“I don’t disagree with you,” Hoffman said. “All I’m doing is pointing out to the public that this is a serious thing, and just naming off people because you know their name is a big deal. And it may not be happening, but I know several instances of things that have happened. So, I’m not trying to belittle the health department.”

He said he wasn’t trying to minimize the dangers, or the risks. And he understand that their job is extremely difficult. 

“But I also feel very strongly that there are times where quarantine orders are issued and they’re not justified,” he said. “That’s my opinion. I’m entitled to an opinion as are you.”

“So, in essence to answer part of the question you asked, maybe part of that process would be an educational piece,” Commissioner Jim Daily said.

“Absolutely,” Hoffman said. He suggested committees of roundtable discussions with county commissioners and county officials for brainstorming.

“I think KDHE has put an awful lot of effort into this, giving our Health Department guidelines to follow for them to because none of us have ever been exposed to a pandemic before,” Daily said. “So we’re trying to do what we can make sure that everybody in the county is safe.”

No blanket quarantines 

“I think one thing I just want to make very clear – when the Health Department contacts a positive case, they are very thorough,” Hathcock said. Questions include: Who were you with? Were they wearing masks? Where you with them for an accumulated 10 minutes? Within six feet of the person?

“And all of this goes into account for whether or not the person is quarantined,” Hathcock said. “I don’t know of any blanket quarantines that we’ve done. There’s been a lot of investigation, a lot of questions. If the proper precautions are not taken, then quarantine orders are not issued. I want you and the public to know that we don’t just blanket quarantine people.”

He said Winkelman spent 27 hours Saturday and Sunday doing investigations on the instance this past weekend regarding someone at the Barton Community College Child Development Center who tested positive for the virus.

The county opted out of Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order mandating face coverings, and Hoffman wondered if it had the authority to stray from the KDHE quarantine guidelines, making them more “applicable to our local community.”

Hathcock noted, the governor’s order for masks that we opted out of is a completely separate issue from the KDHE regulations and guidance on quarantines. While the Legislature granted counties the ability to opt out of the order, this is likely not the case with quarantines.