A virtual town hall on current Finney County COVID-19 information was held Monday night by the Finney County Economic Development Corporation.


Panelists who spoke included Andy Flemer, interim CEO of St. Catherine Hospital; Duane Drees, Finney County Commission chairman; Troy Unruh, Mayor of Garden City; Steve Karlin, superintendent of USD 457, who also spoke on behalf of Holcomb USD 363; Colleen Drees, Finney County Health Department director; Ryan Ruda, president of Garden City Community College; Julie Wright from Genesis Family Health; Beth Koksal from LiveWell Finney County; and Shannon Dick from the FCEDC.


Andy Flemer said COVID-19 numbers in the community are increasing and affecting staffing at the hospital, as it has had associates, caregivers and physicians who have been out either due to having the virus themselves or from contact with someone who has tested positive.


This especially has hindered the hospital’s ability to staff the intensive care unit, of which there are eight beds.


"Recently we've only been able to, the last few weeks, been able to staff six of those eight beds from time to time, it does go up and down based on available staffing," he said.


The hospital has also has to close its Behavioral Health Unit, the only in-patient unit for a two- to three-hour radius from St. Catherine, Flemer said.


"That was due to many of the associates becoming sick with COVID and being out of work and the need to pull some of that staff to cover our medical and surgical units," he said. "Unfortunately, that unit still remains closed."


Transfers from the hospital to other facilities have increased because of the thin staff, Flemer said. People have been transferred to Colorado Springs, Colo., Denver and Wichita.


However, transferring is not a daily occurrence, Flemer said.


"We staff and check our census and acuity of patients every four hours and then we plan ahead at least 36 to 48 hours out so that we know for every shift, both day and night shifts, how many staffed beds we can offer to the community," he said.


Steve Karlin said USD 457 was able to have 10 weeks of face-to-face school, but because COVID-19 has affected the school with both staff and students contracting the virus, the district has had to move to more restrictive learning.


So far, 177 staff and 139 students have tested positive, Karlin said.


He’s grateful that the danger to students both in the number of cases and impact of the virus is low, and younger people tend to have a milder experience, but the impact on adults is concerning.


"We need adults in order for our school system to provide the services to our students, not only teachers and paras, but bus drivers, nutrition staff, administrators, nurses ... literally every job is necessary for us to be able to provide the services that our kids need," he said.


On Nov. 9, USD 457 moved to hybrid learning, but five schools, due to the intense COVID-19 activity, moved to Level 6 — Alta Brown, Georgia Matthews, Jennie Wilson and Plymell elementary schools and Charles O. Stones Intermediate Center.


"If the numbers in the community continue to escalate, it’s likely the entire district will have to move to remove learning," he said.


On behalf of Holcomb USD 363, Karlin said that district is experiencing the same concerns as USD 457 when it comes to staffing.


"They too recognize the stress that this puts on our families, feelings of unrest for students, families and staff," he said.


Ryan Ruda said GCCC will end face-to-face learning on Friday, although that was planned in the summer, and continue the final two weeks of the fall semester online.


"We will be spending much of November and December going through and deep cleaning and sanitizing and preparing for our reopening on Jan. 4 for the spring semester," he said.


Colleen Drees said everyone in the community needs to take part to help reduce transmission of COVID-9 in the community.


Some of the behaviors that people can employ to take an active role in reducing the spread include washing hands frequently, using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, avoiding close contact with individuals outside of the home, social distancing of at least 6 feet, wearing a mask, covering coughs and sneezes with the elbow, using a tissue and then washing hands and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, including cellphones and keys.


Drees also spoke of the recognizing the COVID-19 symptoms: fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches, joint pain, headache, loss of taste and smell, congestion, runny nose, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.


Typically symptoms are seen within seven days after exposure. However, there are outliers, some people who don’t develop symptoms up to 14 days later, Drees said.


"That is why the CDC, KHE recommends the 14-day quarantine," she said.


If anyone is symptomatic, they can call the health department at 620-272-3600 to schedule a test. The department tests from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday.


Drees said they can tell if the mask ordinance is working in the community three to four weeks after it takes effect.


"I say that mainly because it's two weeks to then reduce the transmission, because of the long incubation period, and then on the third week we're then looking at the second week's data, and then by the fourth week we're looking at the third week's data," she said.


If it’s working, health officials will see a "decrease in cases, positive cases; decrease in widespread transmission, decrease in hospitalizations. Basically all the data points that we do tract we would hope to not continue to see an increase in those."


Julie Wright said that all are welcome for coronavirus testing at Genesis Family Health, there is no cost to get tested and insurance is not required.


They also don’t care if someone is undocumented, Wright said.


"We do not ask and we do not care if you may be undocumented. Come in and get a test if you have symptoms or if you've been exposed," she said. "We don't care about that, we don't keep statistics on that, we don't care, we want everyone to be safe."