County learns of pandemic economic impact

Meghan Flynn
A "closed" sign is shown in a downtown Garden City business on May 4. The county is set to fully reopen on June 8.

Members of the Finney County Area Economic Development Corporation spoke on the impact COVID-19 has had economically on Finney County.

Bob Kreutzer, vice-chairman of the FCEDC board and Finney County representative for the FCEDC, said it’s important people understand the impact the reported numbers of positive COVID-19 cases have had on the county.

“(They’re) going to have a significant impact potentially on our future when we go around,” he said. “We anticipate perhaps communities that are east of here ... may find that it's an advantage to shoot at us in terms of what we have done. We need to make sure that we know and understand exactly what these numbers that we keep looking at mean.”

Lona DuVall, FCEDC president/CEO, said unemployment rates are one of the “quickest reactions” that can be seen in a situation such as COVID-19.

The unemployment rate in Finney County increased from 2.9% before COVID-19 to 5.9%. DuVall said she anticipates the increase will be short-term.

“We think the majority of this is probably going to flesh out in retail workers and restaurant workers who were forced to go onto unemployment but will have the opportunity to come back as soon as their businesses are reopened,” she said.

DuVall said the FCEDU utilized data from a CDC document, dated May 2020, which talks about how the percentage of positive test can be used as an indirect measure of if a county is testing enough people.

Adequate testing matters, DuVall said.

“Counties with the highest testing rates have the highest positive cases,” she said. “Entities with widespread testing capacity, for instance the military, have results that are directly in-line right now with the CDC's epidemiological estimates.”

Shannon Dick, FCEDC strategic analyst, said Finney County is in line with the CDC’s estimates because it’s testing people at a higher rate that other counties in the state.

“Our numbers are probably a true count of COVID-19,” he said. “The numbers that you see in Riley County, the numbers that you see in Johnson County, the numbers you see in all these other places, probably are severe underestimations of that true numbers of COVID-19 cases.”

The numbers are different because Finney County’s testing system is more “robust,” Dick said.

“We’re testing more people and more often,” he said.

As a whole, Kansas has conducted limited testing and has been using cumulative tracking to monitor the COVID-19 situation, DuVall said. Cumulative tracking shows how many cases there have been over time, not the number of current active cases.

Dick said the downside of testing more and reporting the accurate number of positive, cumulative numbers of COVID-19 is people see the high number of positives, which over 1,400, and become concerned about conducting business with people from the county.

“We're having contractors working outside cities that are having concerns about people from Finney County working in other communities and bringing the virus out to them,” he said. “Sheila (Crane) said she's had direct evidence where people are saying, ’Don't shop in Garden City because there's so much COVID-19.’ ”

Dick said there isn’t any more COVID-19 in Finney County than in other communities; it’s just doing better and testing and reporting about it.

“We need to do is think of ways that we can address the fears of our community,” he said.