Once again, a host of parents who have children in Great Bend’s USD 428 addressed the Barton County Commission Monday morning, frustrated by COVID-19 quarantine orders. Calling for a modification of the process, they said these students are deprived of education and extra-curricular activities, and face bullying from schoolmates.
“Everyone feels passionately about this issue, and we will listen to your concerns,” Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said at the outset. “However, we cannot take any action today.”
Schartz said commissioners would hear them out, gather more input and bring the issue up at a later meeting. The action would have to come with the commission meeting as the county Board of Health.
She admonished the crowd that this was not an open debate and noted that each person would be granted five minutes to speak, although most exceeded this limit with some demanding the right to speak further.
“This is not a criticism or undermining of the countless hours and tireless work of our Barton County Health Department staff,” Jennifer Flick said. “Their effort, work, and risk are both appreciated and recognized by myself, and many other people in this room today. I am thankful for their unwavering support to see us through this pandemic.”
Instead, “this is merely a request for policy change,” she said. This marked the second time she has come before commissioners about this issue.
“We have listened to this for months,” Commissioner Jim Daily said. “We will work towards a solution, but it has to be a solution based on the community needs.”
Not everyone will be happy, he said. But, “we are working for the masses.”
“In March, the words novel coronavirus struck fear into the heart of almost every American,” Flick said. “There was so much we didn’t know, but an abundance of fear as we face an unprecedented health crisis. As you well know, we endured months of upset and uncertainty, waiting for more information.”
But, “I think we have much more information now and that is why I feel it is time to make some adjustments to the way we are handling quarantines,” she said. “Here we are nearing the end of October, and the local schools have yet to prove to be a hotbed of COVID transmission.”
Attending in-person school is critical to the health and welfare of our students, Frick said, quoting information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“COVID-19 transmission and illness are not the only risks to consider when making decisions about sending children back to school,” Flick read. “Schools provide important services and support for children’s academic, social, emotional and physical health.”
There were families represented Monday that were on their second, third, fourth, even sixth quarantine, she said.
“This is simply an unsustainable practice,” she said. “If we really care about the entire health of a child, not just as it relates to COVID, I think it was time to reconsider our close contact 14-day quarantine practices and let symptom-free kids return to school under parent monitoring.”
She noted that the limited data from the CDC about COVID-19 and children suggests that children are less likely to get COVID than adults. And when they do get COVID-19, they generally have less serious illness than adults.
“Many of our own frontline health-care professionals feel the same,” Flick said.
And, “we know that when children are quarantined the situation often requires a financial sacrifice from the family, but to what end,” she said, adding many families in Barton County live below the poverty line. “How much are we willing to ask families to sacrifice in the name of the medication of a disease that is not going away? When you are sick, stay home.”
Stephanie Davis said she has a daughter who is a freshman in high school at Great Bend and on the volleyball team. “She is in quarantine now, she was out for two weeks, and she is back in.”
“Who’s responsible for these kids these kids that are in recommended quarantine?” she said. “Do you realize that those kids are driving around right now? Do you realize that these kids are going out to eat? Do you realize that these kids are playing corn hole for three hours when they don’t have to be in school, or they don’t have to check in with their teacher at that time? Who’s in charge of those kids, their parents, those parents are at school or at work?”
Davis also questioned remote learning. “You can’t raise your hand and ask that teacher a question right then. You can’t go in before school, you can’t go in after school, you have to email that teacher, and that teacher then will get back to you when they’re available.”
“I have two medically fragile children,” Jennifer Gregg said. “I have every reason to be cautious.”
But, she said, “I believe the county has been too cautious.
Julie Spray said she has three kids in school who have or still are undergoing six quarantines. All three are at home now.
“We elect you to find solutions,” Spray said.
Barton County Commission meeting at a glance
Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:
• Approved vacating a portion of NE 70 Road from NE 10 Avenue to NE 20 Avenue. The stretch is little more than a rutted path.
Barton County received a request for the vacation in South Homestead Township, said County Engineer Barry McManaman. Adjoining landowners were notified and, in addition, an advertisement was placed in the Great Bend Tribune. There was no public viewing as the adjoining landowners agreed.
This is allowed by Kansas statute, McManaman said.
• Approved Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) funding reimbursement. This was for $28,500 to cover the March–December rent of the Barton County Annex (used by the Treasurer’s Office as a drive-through location) at Broadway at Morton in Great Bend, County Administrator Phil Hathcock said.
Use of the facility has helped mitigate the spread of COVID, thus qualifying it for the program, Hathcock said.
SPARK funding is federal CARES Act money funneled through the state for COVID-19-related expenses.
• Approved $25,540 in SPARK funding reimbursement for the Health Department. This includes the mobile health unit purchased in July, Hathcock said.
• Approved $205,437 in SPARK funding reimbursement for the Health Department Purchasing Plan.
• Heard a COVID-19 update from Public Health Director Karen Winkelman.
• Heard concerns from parents over the use of quarantine orders on students.