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COVID quarantine orders to be mailed
Positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise
covid-19 Barton

As the number of positive COVID-19 cases continues to climb in Barton County, Health Director Karen Winkelman said the Health Department is responding to public feedback and changing how it distributes quarantine recommendations. However, she stressed to the County Commission Monday morning they are not letting down their guard in battling the pandemic.

Now, quarantine recommendations will be sent by mail instead of delivered by Barton County Sheriff’s Office deputies. They will be sent to those identified as close contacts and those at risk of infection. 

The mailing will include the same information provided in the past – the beginning date, the end date, the signs and symptoms and contact information and any type of emergency issues. 

“We will still have conversation with those individuals, but we will alert them that the letter will be coming out in a different fashion,” she said.  

However, the isolation orders will continued to be hand-delivered by officers, Winkelman said. These are orders served to individuals who either have signs and symptoms and are waiting on a result, or who are confirmed positive.

“Nothing will change as far as our oversight of the pandemic,” she said. “And I really want to stress that we are still required by statute to investigate cases, suspect cases, potential cases, probable cases, and also to do the contact tracing.”

That’s a very important part of the process. “So none of that will change,” she said. 

“We have had a tremendous amount of input from the community in regards to quarantine,” she said. “The importance and value of quarantine has not changed and I cannot stress that enough.”

It is that incubation period that is so critical. That’s the period where one has been identified as coming in close contact with a positive case and has the potential for symptoms to develop. 

“That is a very critical time frame because if you’re out and about and not using precaution, you can pass that infection on to other people,” Winkelman said. It can be 48 hours before symptoms start. 

“So, again, it’s very important that we take those measures and take quarantine serious,” she said.

But, “our current system is very taxing on our partners (particularly the Sheriff’s Office which has had to deliver them), and on the community,” she said. “The community has really been very vocal and expressed the need to be responsible for themselves.”  

An ongoing pandemic

“The numbers, as we can see, have risen, and it’s nothing that we haven’t expected to happen,” Winkelman said. “We had talked early on about ‘community spread.’”

This means there’s a point where officials can’t identify where someone got the disease, she said. “We’re at that point,” she said.

Early, her staff could go back during their investigation and identify the source. And now, there are times that they just can’t come up with that information.

“Our staff is very capable, and we try to stay up with (Kansas Department of Health and Environment) guidance and recommendations as much as we can,” she said. This includes the KDHE now reporting virus clusters on Wednesdays.

“So, again, you know we’re moving forward trying to provide the public with as much information as we can, and to stay ahead of infection control,” Winkelman said. “We are really at the six-month-ish mark of me standing before you.”

She and her staff preached and preached on limited mass social distancing, limited exposure, washing hands, disinfecting high-touch areas, staying home when sick, and avoiding large gatherings and events. 

“We encourage the community to do those things,” she said. So, “we’re extending our trust to the community that they will do the right thing. These actions, I feel, will help balance the needs of community safety, and also keep the stability for our economic situation.”

Also, “hopefully, we’ll keep our teachers, educators and our children in the classrooms where we want them to be,” she said. “We also have to take in mind the mental and physical wellbeing during the pandemic because this has really taken its toll on a lot of people.”

As of Monday morning, there were 366 positive cases in the county with five related deaths. They get a lot of community questions as to why the numbers of active cases go up and down so frequently. “That number is so fluid.” 

Nonetheless, the county’s case numbers continue to rise, she said.

“You know as far as the statistics are concerned you can only do what you can do to the best of your ability,” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. “I really think you and your staff are doing that.”

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

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

• Named Sunflower Diversified Services Executive Director Jon Prescott to the Solid Waste Planning Committee.

Per state law, Barton County is required to form and maintain a Solid Waste Planning Committee to develop and perform an annual review of the Solid Waste Management Plan, which is revised every five years and then approved by the commission. This committee is comprised of representatives of cities, counties and private industry served by the Barton County Landfill, County Administrator Phil Hathcock said.

Sunflower operates a massive recycling operation serving Barton and Pawnee counties. It has been noted that recycling efforts keep items out of the landfill, thus extending its life span.

“He is a good fit,” Hathcock said. This is a four-year, uncompensated term.

• Heard update on COVID-19 from Health Director Karen Winkelman.

• Heard an update from Sheriff Brian Bellendir on his department assisting the Great Bend Police Department, which has several officers out due to COVID-19, and steps the Sheriff’s Office is taking to reduce the risks of the virus there.