Barton County Health Director Karen Winkelman has one message for those who have not gotten the COVID-19 shot.
“I would encourage them to get vaccinated,” she said, giving a pandemic report to county commissioners Monday morning. Although it is not completely effective, it has helped keep the number of cases down.
Also, “what we have seen here in Barton County is that in those who have been vaccinated, who have contracted COVID, the symptoms are very mild,” she said. She cited contrasting long-term care facility outbreaks, one last fall and one just recently.
In the earlier instance, cases were severe and led to several deaths. This time, with the residents vaccinated, the cases were not as serious and there was only a single hospitalization with no fatalities.
“People need to know that not everybody responds the same, that it’s not 100%,” she said. However, it is better than the alternative.
“I think a lot of people are afraid to get the vaccine because they’re afraid of the side effects,” District 3 Commissioner Shawn Hutchinson said. “And there’s a lot of misinformation out there, I’ll be the first to admit that.”
He tells people to look around Barton County where the Health Department has administered over 11,000 doses since December. “There have been literally zero side effects.”
Winkelman said they get calls about sore arms or temperatures, but that’s it. But, those are the same side effects that come with most vaccinations.
“I think it’s important that we really point that out that we’ve had no real negative side effects from 11,500 doses in the last eight months,” Hutchinson said.
But, all is not smooth sailing
Changing and conflicting guidance from state and federal health officials on such matters as mask wearing and quarantine lengths has created distrust among many, Winkelman said. This may lead to hesitation to get the vaccine and a loss of credibility for health professionals at all levels.
“It’s really hard to try to maintain consistency,” she said. “I’m a technical person where I like things laid out and predictable. This has been anything but that.”
This was brought up by a question from Hutchinson who questioned the leadership of state and federal officials on such issues as masks. “All of that stuff I think sometimes makes people less trusting in the system.”
Quarantines have also been a moving target, Winkelman said. COVID has a 14-day incubation period, and that is science, but there have been proposed alternates to the 14-day quarantine.
Furthermore, health directors in different counties can choose to follow different quarantine guidelines, she said. Barton County, though, is sticking with the 14 days, since it is recommended by the KDHE and CDC for all COVID mutations.
This uncertainty can also be caused by the emergence of the variants, Winkelman said. People are told it’s safe to be out if they are vaccinated, but with the Delta variant, that may not be the case.
“We still get requests from both sides of the issue,” Commission Chairman Jim Daily, District 4, said. “People say ‘we don’t want masks’ or ‘we do want masks.’”
In addition, there have been questions about who’s vaccinated and who’s not, and if people can be mandated to get the shot. “Those kinds of things just muddy up the water,” Daily said.
Other update information
• “We have approximately 41 who are infectious and in isolation,” she said. But, “quarantine numbers are so fluid right now that I do not have a number because people are becoming less forthcoming on who they’ve been around, and who they may have had close contact with. So I do not feel that I can even give you a guess in a moment.”
• In the month of June, the county had 11 positive cases reported, and in July, there were 101. The number of deaths remains the same at 51.
• The total positive case count in Barton County stands at 2,634. This includes the outbreak at Riverbend Assisted Living in Great Bend, which still is listed on the Kansas Department of Health Environment website as active.
An outbreak is at least five cases in one facility or business that have onset of symptoms within the past 14 days.
They are still tracking a possible outbreak at a private business in the county.
• The Health Department has given over 11,520 vaccines (this excludes those given in pharmacies or at other locations). Last week the department administered 145 doses, and in the two weeks prior, the numbers were 122 and 93.
They continue to offer all three vaccines – Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson.
• Looking at the total population in Barton County, 34.9% of the population has been vaccinated, while across the state, the total is 42.2%. Of the eligible population 12 years and up in the county, 41.3% have had the shot, up 1% from last week.
Winkelman did say the percentage of those vaccinated in the county includes doses give at all locations, or at least those that get reported to the KDHE as they are supposed to be.
• Testing continues, with approximately 30 tested last week through the department’s drive-through.
But, she said, due to the volume of test results sent to KDHE, the agency has changed how it prioritizes testing for the Delta and other variants. So, she doesn’t have a handle on the number of variant cases in the county.
Out of the 41 specimens that have been tested for Barton County last week, there were 24 that were positive for COVID, she said. Twelve of those were Delta variant and three the Alpha.
When it comes to priority variant testing, KDHE is interested in cases in people who’ve had the vaccine, hospitalized COVID patients, fatalities caused by COVID, counties that have little or no variant testing being done, and counties with increasing case rates and low vaccination rates, Winkelman said.
Last Friday, there were 83 of the 105 Kansas counties reporting variants.
• The Health Department has reached out to Barton Community College. They will have a vaccination clinic there from 2-5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17, in the Student Union.
This week, they are having a “targeted population event” for teens from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday at the department. They will offer COVID and all age-appropriate vaccines.
• Winkelman has been in contact with school systems. “We’ve been anxiously awaiting guidance from KDHE and CDC and that was released last week on Friday,” she said.
Basically, this guidance is to keep safe in-person instruction for the upcoming school year. To maintain this, they urged vaccinations for those 12 and older, a robust testing strategy, universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors, and 3-foot social distancing if at all possible.
She also plans to meet with school administrators to find out their plans and how they can support those efforts.
Schools have an obligation to report any positive cases, as well as to identify close contacts and report those as well.
• As for how many of the new 101 new active cases are in those who have been vaccinated, Winkelman said that is difficult to tell. Shots are given at multiple locations and not all are reported in a timely manner, she said. So, vaccination records in the Kansas immunization registry are incomplete.
• As of now, Winkelman said, based on information from the KDHE and CDC, there is no indication for the need for booster doses, Winkelman said.
Those who have had COVID are believed to carry the antibodies for about six months.
Barton County Commission meeting at a glance
Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:
• Heard a report on the county’s 2020 audit from Melissa Ille, senior manager, Adams, Brown. She gave the county and “unmodified” opinion. The only problem was minor reporting issue with some federal COVID-19 relief funds, a matter that can be easily corrected.
The report covered the financial condition of Barton County from Jan. 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020.
• Approved paying the county’s portion of improvements to NW 50 Road and at the intersection of North Washington Avenue and North 30 Road.
The Kansas Department of Transportation opened bids on July 21 for a project that includes widening a concrete drainage box on NW 50 Road 0.1 mile east of NW 10 Avenue and making intersection safety improvements at the intersection of North Washington Avenue and North 30 Road, County Engineer Barry McManaman said.
L & M Contractors Inc., Great Bend, submitted the low bid of $603,844. KDOT found the bid satisfactory and requested the county approve the authority to award the contract and the commitment of county funds. Barton County is responsible for 10% of the construction costs in the amount of $61,000, McManaman said.
• Held a 20-minute executive session for matters of attorney-client privilege. In the session with commissioners were County Counselor Patrick Hoffman, Sheriff Brian Bellendir and County Administrator Phil Hathcock.
Commissioners reconvened in open session and no action was taken.
• Held a 10-minute executive session to discuss non-elected personnel matters. Present with the commission were Hoffman, Bellendir and Hathcock.
Commissioners reconvened in open session and no action was taken.
• Heard a COVID-19 update from County Health Director Karen Winkelman.