Heavy COVID presence in local care facilities, residents still encouraged to take precautions

Justin Sabata

Ellis County has seen a decrease in active COVID-19 cases with 145, contrasting the more than 180 cases last week. According to the county health department’s COVID-19 Portal, the area averaged 14 new cases per day in the week leading up to Monday. 

Ellis County Director of Health Services Jason Kennedy spoke during Monday’s Ellis County Commission meeting where he analyzed the current scope of COVID-19 in the area.

“We have seen modest improvement from our peak of about a month ago” Kennedy said. “Right around Labor Day was kind of our peak, that was also the peak of some of the Fort Hays State testing on campus – that was also the end of their asymptomatic testing there.”

There were 10 active hospitalizations as of Monday, a number that has been consistent for the past few weeks. Kennedy explained the reason for the hospitalization rate and the implications that may be ahead.

“That number has been elevated for about the last month and a half because of two fairly large outbreaks we’ve had inside of long-term care facilities,” Kennedy said. “That’s also driving the increase in our mortality (rate), and we will unfortunately continue to see an increase in the mortality (rate), probably for the next few weeks as those outbreaks continue to reach resolution.” 

There are currently seven total deaths in the county due to COVID-19. 

The number of probable cases has also seen an increase. However, according to Kennedy, this is due in part to the State of Kansas now considering rapid antigen testing as a probable case. As explained on the Centers for Disease Control website, rapid antigen tests are used to detect specific viral molecules. 

“So, if you go and get a rapid test in Russell, you’re considered a probable case, not a confirmed case,” Kennedy said. “So, our probable cases has gone from 13 to 43 in about two weeks – and that’s because more people are bringing on rapid antigen testing.”

The county’s weekly percent-of-positives rate remains at 18.9% due to the amount of tests performed on residents showing symptoms of the virus.

“Mostly because we’re testing symptomatic people,” said Kennedy. “From the start, we have always encouraged people to go see their primary care physician if you’re symptomatic.”

As of Monday, 8,717 COVID tests have been administered in the county with 1,075 returning positive since recording first began, an overall percent-of-positives rate of 12.3%.

“I would love to see it quite a bit lower,” said Kennedy. “For one reason, if we get under 10%, we can open long-term care facilities to close family visits. If we get under 5%, we can open them up completely.”

Kennedy further elaborated on the hardships being faced in these facilities.

“What we’ve done inside of long-term care facilities – or what the State and the federal government have done inside of long-term care facilities is truly appalling,” Kennedy said. “We’ve had these people locked up for nine months – they’ve not been able to see family, they’ve not been able to have any positive social interaction. Which we are starting to see is having a significant detriment on their mental health, and really just their overall general health.”

Multiple sources report a noticeable increase in mental health-related illnesses since the pandemic began, especially in the elderly. However, Kennedy stated that blame should not be placed on the long-term care facilities themselves.

“They’ve done everything they can to protect these residents, but we need the community to do their part,” Kennedy said. “We need to get these numbers down so we can open those facilities up and lead to some of those positive impacts for them.”

Ellis County residents are encouraged to follow the guidelines recommended by the CDC and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. These measures include washing your hands, avoiding close contact and large groups, wearing a face cover, and monitoring your health daily. 

In a question brought up by Commissioner Dustin Roths, Kennedy explained what residents can do in order to prepare their immune systems for possible illnesses as the colder seasons approach. 

“Just general overall health is the best way to beat or combat any virus that you don’t have a vaccine for,” Kennedy said. “All of those measures will also make you more able to deal with the flu, to deal with cold, to deal with anything that we look at.”

Kennedy stated that these measures can include getting a flu shot, exercising, eating healthy, and refraining from smoking or consuming alcohol.  

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