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Pawnee County health-care workers taxed by COVID-19 outbreak
covid masks

LARNED — Pawnee County health officials are urging residents to follow guidelines for infection prevention as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise. Hospitals and health departments in Kansas are being taxed by the increase.

On Friday, Melanie Urban, administrator of the University of Kansas Health System - Pawnee Valley Campus issued an update on community spread, noting “Pawnee County, and the entire Midwest, is experiencing record numbers of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.”

Urban said the county has had 495 positive cases and the numbers continue to increase each week per the Kansas Department of Health and Environment tracking website.

The Pawnee County Health Department issued additional information on Saturday, saying the county has had 209 cases, not including the Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility. The number of community cases identified in the last 14 days is 81 and the number identified in the last seven days is 55. There are 63 active cases.

The PCHD has two nurses who must notify close contacts of people who test positive as quickly as they can.

“Nineteen new positive cases were identified Friday and 15 so far today,” was posted Saturday on the PCHD Facebook page. “Please be safe, wear a mask, social distance, and let’s try to bring our numbers down.”

Urban said the health system encourages everyone to:

• Wear masks that cover your nose and mouth when in public

• Consider eye protection, especially when flying

• Maintain a six-foot distance with those outside your immediate household

• Wash and/or sanitize your hands thoroughly and often 

• Avoid gatherings where social distancing is not possible.  

• Stay home if you are ill 

• Do not let down your guard!

Not following these rules will put you at greater risk of contracting and spreading the virus, Urban stated.

“We support our public health officials and the recommendations they are proposing on what they believe will help bend the curve and keep our patients and community safe. This is a critical time and we need everyone in Pawnee County, and surrounding areas, to take this seriously,” she said.

“We know this feels like a marathon with no end in sight, but new antibody therapies are days away and there is hope that promising vaccines are but months away,” she concluded. “Please do everything in your power to help slow the spread of the virus.”

FAQs (from the University of Kansas Health System - Pawnee Valley Campus)

What does this mean for the hospital, the community and the region in general?   The number of beds currently being used for COVID-19-related care has spiked exponentially here and across the Midwest creating a high demand for patient beds. This, during a traditionally busier time of year as people move indoors and other seasonal respiratory viruses are more common.  

How close are you to meeting that capacity? Capacity at Pawnee Valley Campus is an ever-changing variable.  There are days when we are near capacity. This has happened even when we were not in the COVID-19 pandemic but lately it is happening more frequently due to the additional COVID-19 patients.  

Does the Emergency Room ever close? No.  Even on the rare occasions when we are near capacity our emergency room remains open to all those who need emergency care.  However, if beds and staffing cannot permit us to admit you, we will work to find another hospital with capacity, which may mean receiving care in another city, county or state.

How is COVID-19 impacting transfers?  If we are at capacity or have patients with critical conditions, it is necessary to transfer these patients to another hospital. It is increasingly difficult to find a hospital that can accept a patient because they, too, are experiencing high census due to COVID.  This can affect COVID-19 patients as well as other medical needs including heart attack, stroke, or trauma. Such needs to transfer delays medical care and potentially sends patients far away from home. 

What measures are in place should the hospital reach patient capacity? Our health system hospitals manage patient flow every day and have emergency plans for handling a surge in patients whether from trauma or in this case, a pandemic.  However, COVID-19 has forced the hospital to take more critical measures including but not limited to: 

• Restricting visitors to decrease the spread of COVID-19

• Managing PPE and medical supplies needed to care for COVID-19 patients

• Keeping constant contact with the Pawnee County Health Department, The University of Kansas Health System, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and the Kansas Hospital Association to monitor the situation.


Is it safe to come to Pawnee Valley Campus?  YES.  Hospitals and clinics are currently considered the safest place in every community during this pandemic as the pillars of infection prevention and control are strictly followed and enforced. Telehealth is also a recommended option for healthcare during this pandemic when a conversation with your provider meets your needs.  While your experience visiting our facilities to receive care or support a loved one may look and feel a bit different, be assured that what is not different is our commitment to your health and safety, and that of your loved ones.

What can the public do to help this situation? As the number of COVID-19 patients at Pawnee Valley Campus and across the Midwest rise exponentially, it is critical for us to work together to slow the virus spread to avoid overwhelming hospitals and health-care workers. Follow the guidelines on wearing masks, hygiene and social distancing to help keep everyone safe.  

We recognize people are weary of the pandemic and this includes health-care workers. Pawnee Valley Campus and the entire health system are committed to doing whatever it takes to protect your health and well-being and you play a critical part in our ability to provide that care.    

Can I assess my risk for attending a group gathering? Yes.  Have a plan and ask questions.  Know how many people will attend and assume that everyone you meet may carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  Take the pillars of infection prevention and control with you.  The COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool is interactive and shows the current virus spread across the U.S.

Helpful Links:

Link to the KDHE’s COVID-19 Microsite.

Link to the Pawnee County Health Department that has the latest COVID-19 information for Pawnee County.

Link to the CDC