County COVID hardships continue, commissioner open to discuss quarantine requirements in local schools

BY JUSTIN SABATA

Ellis County Director of Health Services Jason Kennedy cut to the chase regarding COVID-19 in the area during Monday’s Ellis County Commission meeting. Kennedy addressed the unfortunate trends the county has seen for the past few months during the pandemic.

“So, honestly, tonight what I was going to talk about is the same thing we’ve talked about every night since, really, July and before that,” Kennedy said to the commission. “Our cases are too high, our percent-of-positives is too high.”

On Monday, the ECHD reported 118 active COVID cases and a weekly percent-of-positives rate of 17.8%. The overall rate (since testing first began) stands at 12.3%, still above the desired 10% the department is currently aiming for. If the overall rate falls below 10%, then long-term care facilities can be opened up for close family visits. 

“As the public continues to tire of restrictions, they will become more apathetic and more angry,” Kennedy said. “That’ll mean more cases, we will continue to see this.”

“I’m starting to see a huge pushback, just what Jason talked about,” said Second District Commissioner Dustin Roths. “As it goes on, more and more people are getting tired of it.”

There have been 13 deaths in the county attributed to COVID-19. Kennedy reported a slight decline in two-week cases per-1,000 people and a plateauing of weekly percent-of-positives and cases per day.

“Our (weekly) percent-of-positive stables out between 15 to 17 (percent) pretty much for the last two and a half months,” Kennedy said. “Just cases per day, our cases per day has leveled out for about the last 14 days at about 10 or 12 cases per day.”

The ECHD reported an average of 12 new cases per day in the week leading up to Monday.

Later on in the meeting, the commission discussed COVID regulations for schools in Kansas. In a KDHE document specifically intended for K-12 education, symptomatic individuals are required to isolate for 10 days after symptoms begin or until they are without a fever for 72 hours without medicine. If a person is a close contact to an infectious person, then they must be in quarantine for 14 days.

On Monday afternoon, nearby Pawnee County eliminated a required 14-day quarantine if both individuals were wearing two-ply masks at the time of contact. Commissioner Roths described his desire to lessen the restrictions on parts of the county with low COVID mortality rates.

“I think I’d be interested in discussing that,” Roths said. “I think that as long as the school boards of Ellis County are interested in discussing that – I’d be willing to consider lessening any of those burdens that they might deem to be something they would like to change from their perspective.” 

The Hays USD 489 school district currently follows the guidelines from the ECHD and the KDHE.

“I’ve seen, I guess, a lot of data,” Roths said. “Whether that data is consistent or right I guess isn’t necessarily for elected officials to decide.”

Residents are encouraged by Kennedy and the ECHD to visit the KDHE site for information regarding COVID-19. Specialized toolkits are provided to advise individuals, families, businesses and medical facilities. 

“We’re the ones that have to be the gut of the community. We have to make the hard decisions,” Roths said. “If all we’re going to do is use data, then we might as well let scientists at colleges be our elected officials and not the people who end up making the final call on things. And, I don’t think that’s what our society wants at all.”

The commissioner continued to describe what he believes Ellis County wants during COVID-related decision making.

“I think they want us to make a gut call on occasion.” Roths said. “And, if that gut call is that we don’t know that young kids are having a bad enough effect from this, we don’t expect that they’re to be ‘spreaders’ or ‘super-spreaders’ of this virus, then I don’t think we should be as hard on them or their family as maybe the KDHE says or the governor of our state says.”

The pandemic has had a negative impact on mental illness and the economy nationwide. The virus is also responsible for over 215,000 U.S. deaths.

“Now, we’re starting to see all of the effects of what a virus can do to a society,” Roths said. “Especially, a society where the government decides they need to make changes to mitigate the effect of the virus.” 

The Ellis County Commission is scheduled to meet again Monday, October 19. The meeting will take place at the Administrative Center in Hays and can be viewed on the Ellis County YouTube page.

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