BY JUSTIN SABATA
Ellis County Health Director Jason Kennedy has seemingly had to repeat his recommendations to the public since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Questions from residents have flooded the department while Kennedy has provided almost weekly COVID updates at each Ellis County Commission meeting.
As reported by the health department Monday, there were 18 active cases in Ellis County (27 active cases as of publication). Though alarming, Kennedy assured this spike was inevitable given the summer holidays.
“We expected this, following the Fourth of July weekend. We expected it,” he said. “You see cases across the country increasing. You see cases in the state of Kansas increasing.”
An aspect of the pandemic that was not expected, however, was the majority of cases being attributed to case clusters, according to Kennedy.
“Of our 30 cases in a week (as of Monday), 23 of them have been associated with four clusters,” Kennedy said.
Those clusters included one at a truckstop outside of Topeka, two private gatherings in Hays, and one at a long-term care facility in Hays. According to Kennedy, every resident and staff member of the long-term facility was tested within four days of the initial positive test.
Kennedy once again recommended that residents practice social distancing if they do not want to become infected.
“Any time you gather in groups, you bring together big groups of people, you have a likelihood of being around someone who has COVID,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy also reiterated his recommendations for traveling during the pandemic for those concerned with infecting themselves or the community.
“Don’t travel,” he said. “If you don’t want to go get COVID and bring it back to Ellis County, don’t travel.”
Other tips given by the health director included washing your hands, avoiding touching your face and avoiding contact with people. That advice has been given by medical professionals around the country since earlier this year.
As the commissioners listened, Kennedy moved on to the topic of masks. While avoiding any sort of political fuel for the fire, he gave his professional stance on masks in public and how it relates to Ellis County.
“We have 18 active cases (Monday’s number) in a population of 28,000 people, so we have a fairly uninfected population base,” he said. “Now, do masks work? In situations, absolutely. High population density and high viral load. Long term care facilities, indoor spaces, at your mass gatherings that you shouldn’t be having anyways, inside your home.”
A concern of First District Commissioner Butch Schlyer was if residents need to wear masks all of the time, instead of in certain situations. According to Schlyer, the concern comes from the recommendations given on television.
Kennedy recognized the media’s presence during the pandemic, and again stated the situations in which masks are most needed – places with high population density and high viral load.
Schlyer was worried about social distancing participation when college classes resume in the fall. Fort Hays State has continued to develop its plans for the fall semester to keep students and employees safe while updating policies — sometimes on a daily basis as the situation evolves.
“I’m expecting infection rates in Ellis County to start soaring,” Schlyer said. “Most especially, when the college starts to open again and we get students back in town that are going to do what students do. They’re going to have their gatherings; they’re not going to social distance.”
Schlyer also included the upcoming Ellis County Fair, Labor Day and Oktoberfest as other areas of concern. Kennedy recognized the potential threats but also described the measures the community has already taken.
“As far as what the community is doing, I think they’re taking the appropriate steps right now as they are presented from KDHE and CDC,” Kennedy said.