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COVID-19 surge tracked at long-term care facility
110 tests, 6 positives at Great Bend location
covid-19 Barton

County’s community COVID-19 testing starts Tuesday

The Barton County Health Department, in conjunction with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, will begin its drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic Tuesday. It will run from  9 a.m. to noon under the awning on north side of the Barton County Sheriff’s Office, 1416 Kansas in Great Bend.

The maximum they can test per day is 20 and these individuals must be symptomatic and make an appointment, but there is no charge for the tests, Interim Health Director Karen Winkelman said. Testing will be provided on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings until further notice.

Specimens will go to the Kansas Department of Health and Environmental lab and results will be available in two to three days, she said. The test will be administered using a nasal pharyngeal swab.

At the time of the test, the individual will be handed an isolation order, Winkelman said. He or she will be asked to stay home until the test results come back.  

For more information call the Health Department, 620-793-1902.

Although she couldn’t release the name, Interim Barton County Health Director Karen Winkelman said the Health Department is working with a Great Bend long-term care facility in regard to an outbreak of COVID-19.

“We’ve tested approximately 110 individuals,” she said, addressing the County Commission Monday morning. They have identified six positive cases. 

“We’re doing what’s called cohort testing,” she said. This is where there is a positive case and testing is done on the whole facility.

“Basically what you’re doing is testing a group of people who share the same environment,” Winkelman said. Once they get the results it helps them better with their disease-containment plan.

“We have been working with a facility on that, and it is truly up to the facility to make any kind of press release or issue any kind of information to the public,” she said. “But, I’m working very closely with that facility, and they’re following through with the plans they have in place.”

She can’t share a lot of information due to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) restraints. Winkelman said her office and the facility are following Kansas Department of Health and Environment requirements, suggestions and protocols.

By the numbers

The cases at the long-term care facility helped fuel a surge of positive COVID-19 cases in Barton County. The number hit 22 over the weekend, including the virus-related death of a Great Bend resident last week.

Statewide, the number of cases stood at 7,116 Monday afternoon with 158 deaths.

Winkelman said the county has issued 236 isolation/quarantine orders. Of those, 88 are still active.

The county has come under fire on social media for not releasing more information to the public, she said. But, there are factors that make releasing data challenging.

“It’s hard to really give numbers and be current,” she said of the isolation orders. The KDHE gives some guidance as to how long people are in isolation and how long people are in quarantine.

However, the quarantine is based on whether or not the a contact lives in the same household as a positive case, she said. 

“We have so many things to look at,” she said. For example, the number of active orders seems relatively high for the number of cases in the county.

In a household where someone is positive, the family members in the household are in quarantine from the minute the positive result is known, she said. The family members are quarantined that whole time, she said. 

The person who tested positive is not considered non-infectious until 10 days after the onset of symptoms, and there is no fever and an improvement of symptoms. So basically the quarantine starts over again for the household contacts because they have to go by the last date that they potentially were infected. 

“It’s really hard to give numbers that are just really spot on, because that just varies as every day goes by,” Winkelman said. 

And, privacy is another factor, she said. “It’s really hard in public health.”

“HIPAA plays a huge role in this,” she said. “The privacy of patient information is so important. And this has been a really difficult time for me.”

She has been in the medical field many years and now they’re able to share more information than they have in the past. “I still have my guard up.”

Protecting privacy and sharing what the public needs to know is balancing act, she said. “So, I see and hear a lot from the public about wanting names and wanting to know the area they are from. That kind of thing is really hard.”

The job of public health is to protect the health, she said. “But yet, when a positive COVID comes, you feel like you haven’t done enough.” 

Even so, she feels 22 is lower than what it could be.