COVID emergency declaration extended
BY DALE HOGG
The Barton County Commission Monday morning extended the COVID-19 state of local public health emergency until March 31. The current declaration expired Tuesday.
The commission first ratified a health emergency declaration at a special meeting held March 20, 2020. That Declaration was extended on May 18, 2020, and again on July 13, 2020.
Monday’s extension will remain in place until March 31 unless the commission terminates it earlier. The extension immunizes the county from liability and allows for the county to receive state and federal aid, said Emergency Risk Manager Amy Miller.
“It’s a benefit to you as a board and the county as a whole,” she said. Although it is set to expire in March, she said it can be ended or extended at any time by the commission.
Considering first and second doses, the Barton County Health Department has administered over 1,000 shots of the COVID-19 vaccine between the time the first shipment arrived on Dec. 21 and this past Friday, Health Director Karen Winkelman said Monday morning. Her department could easily handle that many in a day, but is hampered since they only receive 300 initial doses per week.
“I’ve tried reaching out to the key people at KDHE (the Kansas Department of Health and Environment), telling them what our setup is and how quickly we can get it done,” she said in a COVID update to the County Commission. A cooperative effort between the Health, Sheriff and Administration departments has led drive-through clinics at the Great Bend Expo Complex that run with military precision.
However, “they pretty much told me on Thursday that we can expect probably in the area of 300 consistently for a while,” she said.
That’s a shame, since those wanting the vaccine started lining up at 8 a.m. last Friday for the 4 p.m. clinic. The Sheriff’s Office had to turn away about 500 people because the 300 doses were quickly spoken for.
There have been complaints about the first-come-first-serve approach, but Winkelman said this seemed like the most equitable method. They are looking at sign-up system, experimenting with online or phone registration, but there are concerns about lack of computer access or people signing up and not showing up for their appointment.
Some people also griped about seeing out-of-county cars in line Friday. But, “we are told not to turn anyone away; that includes those from outside of Barton County.”
Now, all doses coming into the county come through the Health Department. Up to 11 doses can be gotten out of one vial of the vaccine.
Moving from phase to phase
In the meantime, “our goal really is to get our weekly allotments out, and get them out fast,” Winkelman said. Barton County is receiving the two-dose Moderna vaccine, which requires less refrigeration than the rival Pfizer-BioNTech, also a two-dose vaccine, but the two are not interchangeable.
“How long do you believe it’s going to take to get through Phase 2, because of the number of people that are in Phase 2?” Commission Chairman Jim Daily said, noting there are a lot of variables. He was referring to the second phase of Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s vaccine rollout plan that encompasses a broad range of folks – from those in congregate settings to those 65 and older to front-line workers, ranging from teachers to farm workers.
“Sorry. It’s a really hard answer to give you,” Winkelman said. First, only about half the population has expressed interest in taking the vaccine, and second, the vaccine supplies continue at a trickle.
She did note they are working closely with schools and daycare facilities.
“Right now, we feel we pretty much have saturated Phase 1,” she said, adding that was taken care of at the vaccination clinic last week. The first phase covers health care workers and first responders. Those left can be incorporated into the second phase efforts.
In addition to the 300 first doses the county receives, it also automatically receives secondary doses as well. Those who get the first shot will receive a reminder of the second.
There is a 28-day waiting time between the first and second dose with the Moderna shot. But, it can be pushed to 24 days.
A person will have the maximum immunity two weeks following their second dose. However, the vaccine is only 95% effective so “ don’t forget the masks and all the other things that we’ve been talking about. Don’t let the guard down on that just because of the vaccine,” she said.
“Everybody’s immune system responds differently,” she said. “So they still need to take those precautions.”
She said the efforts to keep COVID in check have also helped fight the flu. “I think the rate of influenza has proven that, because we’re seeing very little of it in the community.”
A lot of work
Even though the vaccinations run smoothly, the process is still labor intensive, she said. After the clinics are over, all the data must be entered into state and county data bases, and the inventory must show all doses are accounted. Those who had one or two doses must also be tracked.
They are also still involved in contract tracing for COVID cases, although this has tapered off some. This is on top of the routine duties of the Health Department that still have to get done, she said. “We put in a lot of hours.”
“I want to commend Karen Winckelmann, our health director, Phil (Hathcock), or county administrator and our Sheriff Brian Bellendir,” Commissioner Kirby Krier said. “They’re just doing an unbelievable job.”
He went out to the Expo Friday. “It is amazing how quickly they go through.”
Winkelman attributed that to all the emergency preparedness meetings and training since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “It was always, not if, but when. You think, ‘are we ever going to use it,’ but then in the back of your mind you think ‘I hope we never have to use it.’ That has proven to be very, very helpful in all of this.”
A cooperative effort
Hathcock, Bellendir, Emergency Management Director Amy Miller and many willing volunteers made it all possible, she said. From traffic control, to giving vaccinations to arranging for portable bathrooms at the Expo Complex, everyone helped bring things together.
She also thanked the City of Great Bend and the Barton County Fair Board for their cooperation.
Since Winkelman didn’t know until the last minute that the county would get the vaccines and when, the clinics had to be planned quickly. It only took about 24 hours to arranged the first one, thanks to all the emergency prep.
Other big challenges include shifting guidelines from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, a lack of communication from the KDHE and the struggle to keep the public informed, she said. “We get calls from time, people who are not really happy that they haven’t heard the news.”
She and her staff want to give consistent and concise messaging. “But, sometimes that messaging depending on who you talk to at KDHE. You think you’re going along the right path during the investigation the way it should be done, then something totally changes so we have to be adaptive.”
Testing still available
“We still provide COVID testing at the Health Department three days a week,” she said. This occurs from 1-3 p.m. on Mondays, and 9 a.m. to noon Wednesdays and Fridays.
It is a handled as a drive-through in the alley on the department’s east side.
“Those have been very popular and we average right around 30 each time that we test,” Winkelman said. The specimens are submitted to KDHE lab in Topeka and the turnaround time is usually less than 48 hours.
These are the PCR tests. Also called a molecular test, this detects genetic material of the virus using a lab technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). A fluid sample is collected by inserting a long nasal swab into the nostril and taking fluid from the back of the nose.
Barton County Commission meeting at a glance
Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:
• Extended the state of local public health emergency as a result of the COVID-19 until March 31.
• Heard a COVID-19 update from Health Director Karen Winkelman.
• Presented service awards to longtime county employees.
Barton County employees are recognized for continuous service for five, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35 years.
• Approved the county’s Kansas Association Of Counties 2021 membership.
• Approved the county’s Kansas Legislative Policy Group 2021 membership.
• Appointed Brian Bitter to the Fire District 2 Board of Trustees, representing Union Township.
Per the resolution that created the district, the members of the board shall consist of not more than one appointee from each participating township and not more than one from each participating city.
The term expires in December 2022. All terms are uncompensated.
• Named commissioners to a handful of boards.
Commissioner Barb Esfeld was named to the Golden Belt Humane Society board and as the Kansas Legislative Policy Group representative, and Commissioner Shawn Hutchinson to the Workforce Board and the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce board.