Ellis County reports 229 active COVID cases, county commission discusses virus with health director

BY JUSTIN SABATA

A day off on Monday could be considered bittersweet for some Ellis County residents. On Labor Day, the Ellis County Health Department reported 112 new COVID cases. However, despite Monday’s case surge, Ellis County Director of Health Services Jason Kennedy explained some of the reported cases have been delayed due to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. 

“Because of the onslaught of cases, some of their data has been coming out late,” Kennedy said. “So, we get notified of cases that are a couple of days old.”

On Wednesday, the ECHD reported 17 additional cases, totaling 229 cases currently being monitored by the health department. There are three active hospitalizations and no new deaths. 

The weekly percent-of-positives has steadily decreased since two weeks ago. Kennedy credited Ellis County medical professionals for this decline during Tuesday’s commissioner’s meeting.

“Our level of percent-of-positives was outside the 20% mark and it was just indicative of not enough testing,” Kennedy said. “So, the medical community has done a phenomenal job of bringing that down.”

Medical facilities in Ellis County reportedly still have enough capacity and tests for COVID-19 despite the sudden outbreak.

As reported by Kennedy, 54% of the total cases in Ellis County are from residents aged 18-24 and 63% of the active cases reported on Tuesday were from this same age group. This has been a decrease from the reported 77% two weeks ago. 

“That population happens to spread it more because of the number of contacts they have during the day,” Kennedy said, “They work all over the community and we’re thankful to have them.”

Commissioner Dustin Roths also stated the presence college-aged individuals have in the community, especially during the pandemic. 

“That is our workforce,” Roths said. “So, when they spread it like crazy and you guys (ECHD) contact trace them, that’s where you see these shutdowns come from.”

Several businesses in Hays have had to temporarily close due to the number of quarantines or staff with COVID-19. 

In Ellis County, 92% of the total cases come from Hays, 4% from Ellis, 3% from Victoria, and 1% from Schoenchen.

“This virus has been widespread,” Kennedy said. “It’s been felt by most everybody in one shape or another.”

Two facilities in Hays have seen COVID outbreaks, accounting for 59 of Tuesday’s new cases. 

One of these facilities includes Hays Middle School, which has converted to online classes for the week as a result. 

As reported by Kennedy, this was due to the number of staff members having to quarantine instead of a massive outbreak. The second facility experiencing an outbreak is Via Christi Village in Hays, as first reported by the Hays Daily News.

When the health director opened the floor for questions, Commissioner Butch Schlyer stated his concern over the amount of COVID testing and surveillance. 

“I don’t know if there is really a means to an end here, we’re just testing,” Schlyer said. “We’re getting more numbers – the more numbers you get, the more people panic.” 

Schlyer also stated the economic impact that the pandemic, and specifically testing, will have on the community as well as the country. 

“We’re not going to mitigate this through surveillance, we’re just counting numbers,” Schlyer said. “But, while we’re doing this, it’s going to cost the county a lot of dollars, it’s going to cost the state dollars, it’s going to cost the federal government dollars. So we can have statistics for this.”

Schlyer then reaffirmed his stance on COVID masks and their supposed ineffectiveness on controlling the virus.

“People can wear them – they may choose or they may believe they’re safe with them – but essentially they’re not,” Schlyer said.

Before opening the floor back to the health director, Commissioner Schlyer stated the importance of a vaccine as well as individual decision making. 

“Until we can get a safe, valid vaccine, this issue is just going to be with us,” Schlyer said. “And it’s going to continue to grow, and I guess all I can really encourage people to do is choose where you go and what you do.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still does not recommend asymptomatic COVID testing. However, as explained by Kennedy, there may still be instances of such in situations that require contact tracing.

“What you’ve seen lately is we’ve had to do a bunch of asymptomatic testing with long-term care facilities, following KDHE guidance,” Kennedy said. “Because of outbreaks, things like that, we have been testing way more asymptomatic people.”

Kennedy went on to explain one of the issues with asymptomatic testing:

“The problem – and what people don’t understand – with asymptomatic testing is it doesn’t tell you anything about the person’s status right now,” Kennedy said. “You can not be contagious any longer, you can be past your infection, you can be over it and still test positive really up to 90 days – it’s usually closer to 30 to 60 days.”

Kennedy then assured the commission that, while gathering data is a priority, both he and the ECHD are more concerned about protecting the residents of Ellis County. 

“Some of these efforts, at the state level, are about gathering numbers,” Kennedy said. “But, I will tell you, at the local level, it’s truly about doing what we can do to protect the citizens.”

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