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State could ease COVID-19 restrictions
But, counties could implement stricter measures
covid-19 Barton

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly will likely announce the easing of some of the COVID-19-induced restrictions in a Topeka statewide address tonight. Her executive order mandating Kansans stay at home was set to expire Sunday.

However, Barton County Interim Health Director Karen Winkelman was asked during County Commission meeting Monday morning about the lifting of such orders locally. Commissioners were curious about what it would take for restrictions to be removed.  

“It’s really difficult to put any kind of time frame on it,” Winkelman said. “There’s just a lot that has to be part of that conversation.”

She said should the state orders lapse, she and the County Board of Health (made up of the commission) can impose more stringent rules at the county level than the state.

Already in place is a Barton County emergency order issued March 26. It closed all restaurants, dining facilities, bars, taverns, clubs, fitness centers, swimming pools, and any public gathering locations or special event (indoors or outdoors) in the county until further notice, with no expiration date. 

That followed action by the commission at a special meeting March 20 that closed county buildings to the public. This matter is on the agenda for the commission to consider when it meets this Friday morning.

As of Wednesday, there were 3,738 confirmed cases in Kansas, which involved 78 of the 105 counties. That also includes 515 hospitalizations and 125 deaths.

The average age is now 47 years.  

Barton county still remains at nine confirmed cases and zero deaths. As of Wednesday, the Health Department had written and the Barton County Sheriff’s Office had distributed 107 isolation and quarantine orders. Of those, 31 remain active. Winkelman said those letters are sent to individuals who are waiting for test results, those who are positive and those who are in quarantine.

It was Winkelman who directed the BCSO to deliver the orders in her capacity as the county health officer under state statutes. The law gives her the authority to direct to enforce quarantines. 

Unlike the decision to place restrictions on the county which require action by the Board of Health, these orders only require her signature.

What is the Health Department up to?

“Our work at the Health Department mainly has been contact investigation and contact tracing,” she said. 

The investigation involves identifying contacts of confirmed cases, whether they be in our county or outside of our county. They follow up with those contacts to see where they’ve been, and if they’re having any symptoms. 

Contact tracing involves calling the individuals about every two days and check on them to see if they’ve become symptomatic or not.

“We work together with all the counties,” Winkelman said. They utilize the state’s electronic surveillance system to input their data, and share data with the others.

Commissioner Don Davis asked about records of people who are recovered or recovering.  

“The recovery is really a very subjective thing,” she said. “We have to go with the scientific knowledge that’s available to us.”

“When we look at a person who tested positive, we look at the onset date of their signs and symptoms, and that is day zero.”

They consider them to be infectious for at least seven days, but they also have to be fever free without fever reducing medication for 72 hours, she said. And, their symptoms have to be improved. 

“Very early on in this, there were requirements that people had two negative tests prior to going back out into the community,” she said. That guideline recommendation did not last long, because of the availability of testing supplies. 

“So now they do not recommend that we test people at the end of their isolation,” she said. “We go based on days, temperature, and symptom improvement.”

As for false positive tests, Winkelman said the accuracy of the nasal pharyngeal swab test hovers around 99%. And that’s why officials are really are pushing that. 

There’s a lot of discussion out there about serology (blood-based) testing to look at antibodies. There are two such tests, one shows current infections and the other past infections.

“Right now, those tests are not real specific for COVID-19, Winkelman said.