By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Board of Health looks at changing COVID protocols
Board meets Wednesday, and meets again Thursday morning over isolation orders, quarantines and case investigations
health board study session winkelman pic
Barton County Health Director Karen Winkelman, left, and Health Department Clinical Nurse Supervisor Lindsey Ensley explain the protocols for handling COVID-19 cases during a study session with the Barton County Board of Health Wednesday morning. County officials are looking at changing how they deal with isolations, quarantines and case investigations. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Should Barton County change how it handles positive COVID-19 isolations and case investigations? Should the county adopt the current state and federal guidelines to ease public confusion and pressure on the beleaguered Health Department?

These were the questions mulled by the Barton County Commission meeting as the Board of Health during a three-hour study session Wednesday morning in the courthouse conference room. The board will reconvene at 9 a.m. Thursday in the commission chambers in an effort to come to a consensus on these issues.

Wednesday’s meeting was called at the request of Health Director Karen Winkelman. She sought guidance from the board as her Health Department struggles to allay residents’ concerns with seemingly ever-shifting rules, as well as burnout amongst the pandemic-weary staff.

Her recommendation was for the county to switch to the new Kansas Department of Health and Environment guidelines regarding isolations and quarantine, which mimic those recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. There is still a 10-day isolation, but in many instances a person can go out in public wearing a tight-fitting mask after five days.

Generally speaking, quarantines would be for 10 days.

But, there are so many factors, she said. Such things as vaccination and booster status, as well as a patient’s history with COVID and their profession can influence how long they have to quarantine.

Isolations orders are for those with confirmed positive cases requiring them to stay home, and are enforceable by law. Quarantines are recommendations that cover the incubation period and are for people who may have been exposed to COVID and are waiting to see if symptoms develop.

Also, the KDHE, seeing many smaller health departments on the verge of failure due to the pandemic, offered three options to help alleviate workloads. These ranged from allowing departments to stick with doing all investigations and contact tracing in-house, to turning this all over to the state agency, which is hiring more staff to handle the case volume.

It was Winkelman’s recommendation that Barton County go with what the KDHE called option three, allowing KDHE to handle the investigations.

All on the commission profusely thanked Winkelman and her team for their efforts over the past two years. They noted their two top concerns are the health of county residents balanced with supporting the needs of the Health Department. 

But, some were leery of turning the work over to the state for fear of losing local control.

That is the reason for the follow-up meeting Thursday. They gave Winkelman time to address their concerns before making up their minds.

There is also the chance the board could look at implementing this for a set period and re-evaluate it in the near future to see if it is working.

These are merely study sessions and no binding action can be taken. The matter will be on an agenda for a commission meeting, at which time a vote can be made.