Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., met with local leaders via Zoom Wednesday to discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the Garden City and Finney County area.
Moran said the conversation was held with local leaders to “make sure I know what’s going on across the state and trying to be able to better respond to the challenges that are out there.”
Moran also gave an update on what he’s been involved with, namely the CARES Act, which is the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
“I have voted for all three packages and there are things in the packages that I don’t really agree with, there are things that I would do differently, but it doesn’t seem to me to be the time in which we all get our own way,” he said. “Instead, we have to figure out what we do together and that overall what we’re doing is something positive for Americans, for Kansans.”
Moran said he wants everything to return to something more normal than we have today, but to do that we need to attack the virus and its spread.
Health care professionals, law enforcement officials, emergency preparedness people and nursing home workers need to be given the tools to protect them and to care for people, Moran said. Investments need to be made in advancements in technology, manufacturing, medicine and pharmaceuticals.
Moran said everyone wants a vaccine, it’s needed, but right now there needs to be the ability to test, which is the “fastest path in my view to getting us back to something closer to normal.”
“Testing would go a long way to getting us comfortable to return to normal daily activities, and of course a vaccine, which I'm told, is still months away, is even more of a security blanket,” he said.
The United States was unprepared for COVID-19, Moran said, and it troubles him how long it’s taken the country to recover from the lack of preparedness.
He wants to get the country in a better position should another situation like COVID-19 presents itself.
Moran said he is also involved in the Paycheck Protection Program, which is a small business loan program to help businesses keep people employed and receiving a paycheck.
There is a lot going on, and Moran hopes it’s all making a difference to the people he represents.
Local leaders who spoke and gave updates include representatives from: St. Catherine Hospital, the City of Garden City, Finney County, Finney County Health Department, Finney County Emergency Management, Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce, Finney County Economic Development Corporation, Salvation Army, Unified School District 457, the Garden City Police Department, Finney County Sheriff’s Office, Tyson, Mosaic and several politicians.
St. Catherine Hospital
Amanda Vaughan, CFO of St. Catherine’s, said the hospital is doing OK as far as having enough personal protective equipment and has an adequate supply of test kits, but agrees with Moran that the ability to test more broadly would be helpful.
Because of COVID-19, there have been significant economic implications due to the lack of “elective surgical procedures, no screening mammography.”
Their lab volumes have also been reduced at St. Catherine’s and Bob Wilson Memorial Hospital, running at 40% or 50% lower than normal.
So far, there has not been an influx of patients at the hospital, Vaughan said.
“Fortunately in Finney County, we’ve had only 17 positive tests at this point,” she said. “At any given time, we usually only have about three COVID-19 positives in the hospital.”
Finney County Health Department
Colleen Drees, Finney County Health Department director, said supplies for testing are an issue, they’re only getting limited supplies.
There’s also a limit on how many tests they can run a day.
“When we’re sending the tests to KDHE, they also have limits on what their lab can process each day,” she said. “We’re also being told that we can do 50 a day starting on Monday.”
Finney County Emergency Management
Stephen Green, Finney County Emergency Management director, said PPE is also a challenge for them.
The Kansas Department of Emergency Management has been helpful in disseminating PPE, Green said, and Finney County is also reaching out to the private sectors for procurement of PPE.
They are also doing interagency sharing of PPE to dialysis centers, clinics, the hospital, dentists, animal clinics and nursing homes.
“It's a never-ending struggle, it's daily that we have somebody that facilitates that daily,” he said. “We're always searching for opportunities to maintain our inventory so we can meet our objectives.”
Robert Reece, Finney County administrator, said the biggest obstacle right now is getting test kits.
“I know we're in a hurry to try and get back to normality, whatever that is, but I think we have to get past the process of doing enough testing to make that determination of where we're going to be,” he said.
Reece also mentioned that he wanted to know what kinds of funding may be available now or in the future to help local governments.
Moran said it’s unclear, but the state will probably receive no less than $1.25 billion from the federal level, but it’s unclear how that will exactly be distributed.
“There's too many programs that exclude political sub-divisions from receiving the assistance and we're trying to get rid of that prohibition,” he said. “It's a whole variety of things that that prohibition exists on, but we're trying to see if we can't get direct assistance to cities and counties.”
Matt Allen, city manager for Garden City, said the city has been able to give out loans as part of the Community Development Block Grant’s revolving loan fund to local businesses and has adjusted downward rates for solid waste utility, and the city electric utility is giving a one-time credit to customers.
“We're trying to use cash balances where we have to use them in this sort of time,” he said. “This is why you build reserves, this is why you build cash balances, to be able to help in these types of scenarios.”
The COVID-19 situation is going to have a lasting effect on the city because of the loss of revenues and operational expenses, Allen said.
“We project right now that we will see in 2020 a $2 million to $3 million loss for the revenues that support that $25 million general fund and we project the same level of loss in 2021,” he said. “That's primarily property tax and sales tax, but it's also a change in utility transfers, municipal court fines, it's sort of the big five that make up our general fund revenue stream, with building permits being the fifth.”
Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce
Myca Bunch, president of the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce said they are working with businesses to help them get assistance through SBA loans, PPP and other resources and programs.
“It's been across the board, some businesses are doing really well and some of them, it's going to be interesting to see how they come out of this,” she said. “It's going to be an interesting thing to wait and see what happens.”
Finney County Economic Development Corporation
Lona DuVall, president of the Finney County Economic Development Corporation, said they have also been working with the CDBG loans and getting funds out to businesses.
“We've had 26 applications for those funds so far,” she said. “We've only had five that have been denied based on not meeting the low-to-moderate income, so that's encouraging that we're getting a significant amount of those to pass through.”
As of next Tuesday, they will have funded about $305,000 of the city’s CDBG funds.
They have also helped secure more than 100 thermometers to Tyson and are working to fill an order of 7,000 cloth masks to Tyson.
Local businesses have donated fabric and are crafting the cloth masks.
Anthony Lang, Tyson plant manager, said their industry is not built for social distancing, but they have figured out ways to create distance between workers and have team members who do nothing but sanitize rails and where hands go and have put emphasis on washing hands and times to wash hands.
“We've had to figure out how to separate our floors, we cut out shifts in half last week to go make some modifications out on the floor,” he said. “Break times have been a challenge and just everything everybody has done we've had to try to figure out a way to do it and keep everybody safe.”
Salvation Army Food Bank
Chelsea Barnes, of the Salvation Army, said they still have their produce distribution happening on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 to 11 a.m. People line up outside and come in, choose their produce and walk out another door.
They also have their normal food box program, but now people are told to call when they get there and they will bring the food box out to the car to minimize contact.
They also are delivering food boxed to people who are homebound and are working with United Way to figure out a different type of mobile food pantry.
Steve Karlin, superintendent of USD 457, said education has changed with classes no longer being in person, they have the continuous learning program, where students are learning at home.
Karlin said there will be a big gap when students hopefully return to school in the fall, so they’re working to find ways to fill that gap.
Karlin also gave an update on the school lunch program.
Both Sheriff Kevin Bascue and Chief Michael Utz said operations are mostly the same but everyone is wearing masks and other PPE.
Bascue said the biggest challenge is with the jail and making “hard decisions about not bringing certain people to jail during this time.”
Utz said the biggest challenge for them is the mental health crisis.
“We've seen an increase in our mental health crisis out here and our responses and trying to find help for them has been very difficult for us,” he said.