County Commission gets COVID-19 update

The Finney County Commission received an update on how the county health department and other healthcare, county and city entities are working to combat the spread of COVID-19 at the commission’s regular meeting Monday.

Dr. Lindsay Byrnes, Finney County Medical Director, said the most effective way to slow the spread of the virus is social distancing.

"Its our only tool right now to be able to address the spread of this virus ... the best recommendation," she said.

Social distancing is difficult and inconvenient, but necessary, Byrnes said.

"It is a sign of love and respect for our community that we do that to protect all of us, because the truth is that we transmit this when we are not symptomatic," she said.

People should also follow the recommendation set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention limiting the number of people at gatherings to 50, Byrnes said.

"The whole point is the transmission of respiratory viruses is if you're close enough to get those secretions and droplets on you, then you are in a contagious area," she said. "We keep saying the farther apart you can get people, that's probably less people in the room just logistically."

They should also voluntarily cancel their events and mass gatherings for much later dates as this virus epidemic could be a weeks to months event, Byrnes said.

"I know this seems like sacrifices, especially if you're canceling your wedding or prom or these things, but please look at it as your personal responsibility to do what you can in trying to stop this virus, because we do not have a vaccine, there is no immunity in the population," she said. "The only tool we have right now is social distancing, and we have to be very aggressive about that."

Byrnes said she and the other entities are working to provide good, reliable and accurate information on the virus and what the local response is and how it what people should do locally.

Because there are different healthcare systems and access points in the area where people go for information the health department has tried to streamline the information by setting up a hotline that is manned by the department and the emergency room with a consistent message, Byrnes said. The number is 620-272-3600.

The hotline has a scripted screening protocol and is consistent with what the hospital is doing, Byrnes said. They’re working together to keep good, reliable and accurate information consistent for the public.

Whether people want information on the coronavirus or they suspect they’ve been exposed and are desiring screening, they are being directed to the hotline and/or the health department’s webpage.

Byrnes said it’s hard to determine what the case numbers are in the state and across the nation because there hasn’t been widespread testing.

"To say that it is not here is an inaccurate thing because we have not tested to know whether or not it is in our community," she said. "At this time, by the direction of the CDC and KDHE and disease modelers, we are assuming it is."

For someone to be tested for COVID-19 they have to meet the criteria defined by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Byrnes said.

"We have the equipment to do the testing, but part of the criteria is you have to screen in, which means you have to have a documented fever, you have to have respiratory symptoms, cough or shortness of breath," she said.

If sick, Byrnes said people should isolate themselves, but keep in contact with the heath department, their medical provider, etc.

"We are not dealing just with coronavirus; everyone has their chronic medical conditions, other medical conditions that are going to arise, but the key in that communication is to call," she said. "Please do not present in person. We have to decrease our contacts."

Skylar Swords, Finney County Emergency Management director, said EMS is screening its personnel status — for fever and the other symptoms before every shift to make sure they are healthy before being sent out.

"We document that so ... that we know where our staff is at the beginning of every shift or if it changes during the shift so that we're confident that they're not at risk for the public that way," he said.

It’s especially pertinent that they do this when dealing with long-term care providers and nursing homes so that they know the staff coming in is not a risk to their residents, Swords said.