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COVID-19 case shows up in USD 428
Quarantine, isolation violators frustrating officials
phil hathcock, karen winkelman plaques
Barton County Administrator Phil Hathcock, left, and Interim Health Director Karen Winkelman each received plaques from the Barton County Commission Monday morning. Hathcock was honored for his “tireless” efforts in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and other emergency matters (like the Sunday night storm), Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. Winkelman was also recognized for her non-stop work on the pandemic and related safety issues in the county, all while keeping other Health Department services operational. Both were reluctant to accept the praise, noting every county employee pitches in and does their part.

Barton County stands at 54 positive COVID-19 cases, with one of the most recent cases being a student in the Great Bend school system, Barton County Interim Health Director Karen Winkelman told the County Commission Monday morning. In addition, a second death linked to the virus has been confirmed.

“We’ve had a student in USD 428, that was identified and confirmed,” she said. “And so with summer school going on, we dealt with USD 428 on that and have that manageable right now.”

There was also a case confirmed in a private industry in Barton County. “I’ve been working closely with HR for that facility and we’ve had open communication all weekend.”

These confirmation come as she and the Health Department continue testing staff and residents at Medicalodges of Great Bend, site of a case cluster. They have tested well over 100 individuals with there being 11 positives, she said.

“That outbreak will not be considered over until 28 days passed from the last infection date of a person identified,” she said.

Making this more difficult

In the meantime, Winkelman and her beleaguered Health Department staff are growing frustrated at the reactions of some local residents, as well as with officials at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Both, she said, are making their jobs more difficult.

“There are some of the things that we are really struggling with,” she said. “With the governor lifting (restrictions) and leaving it to the county level, we’re getting a lot of people not wanting to follow quarantine and isolation orders. So we’re also having to devote time to manage that.” 

They have people who have been close contacts of confirmed cases not wanting to comply. “And I feel like we have to go out and police that, and we don’t have time,” she said.

“If people could just understand the importance of that,” she said. “This isn’t just a made up thing. This is based on scientific knowledge that the quarantine really does work, and it’s just so important. We need to follow those.”

She said summer’s here and there are more gatherings and there are more people getting together. “I think we just don’t need to be mindful that we need to do our part, you know, social distancing, masks, washing your hands, all of the things we’ve been told about.”

“Contact tracing has consumed a lot of time on our part,” Winkelman said. Although, she said, her staff’s work has mainly involved contact identification and case investigation. 

Contact tracing, the following an individual’s actions for 14 days, is being conducted with assistance from KDHE, she said. “I reached out a couple of weeks ago for some help on that. And so they are assisting us.”

As far as troubles with KDHE, Winkelman said she sat in last week on a virtual meeting with other Kansas Association of Local Health Department members. “I felt like there was a lot of support in that we are getting tired. And it’s not unique to Barton county, there’s 105 counties that are really getting tired.”

There was also a lot of open discussion and support, she said. “We’re not alone in it.”

Another common theme also arose from the discussions. “The people in the departments are really struggling with KDHE not calling when there’s a positive case. And that has been an issue in our county too.”

She hopes the agency listens and resumes calling when there’s a confirmation. KDHE dropped the calls and switched to only posting the cases on its website, leaving it up the county to continually having to seek out updates.

“I hope that they listen, and they start calling us again,” she said. “Our last three cases have been a struggle.”

Some good news

Winkelman said they heard Monday that there may be some funding for communicable disease which hasn’t been there in the past.

Also, she will be contracting with a nurse who also works for USD 428. This will be a part-time arrangement and the nurse and may help with immunizations.

In addition, on Friday, she hired a full-time nurse and her tentative start date is July 8. “that celebration could have been heard throughout the whole department, so I don’t think there’s one staff member that wasn’t hollering for joy.”