By Adam Strunk
Active Covid-19 cases went from 57 to 152 in one week. Regional Hospitals are filling up. And, the county is running out of contact tracing capacity.
Such was the somber update provided by the Harvey County Health Department, Tuesday afternoon.
“There’s been a large increase, more than double in the one week,” Health Department director Lynnette Redington said at the department’s Tuesday update. “That obviously causes us some concern on several levels.”
By the end of Tuesday, the county had seen cases jump by 163 in a week — an average of about 23 cases a day. For context, the high water mark for daily cases was set during mid-October at about 10 cases per day.
Almost three out of 10 COVID-19 diagnoses in the county since March occurred between Oct. 27 and Nov. 3.
The large jump in numbers, amidst a region that’s seeing similar increases, has created and has the potential to create a number of logistical problems. The more people that have COVID-19, the more people that will eventually need hospital care for the disease.
“We’re having a large influx into the hospitals, including Newton Medical Center, for a lot of different reasons, COVID being one of the main ones,” she said.
For context, only two Harvey County residents are currently hospitalized for the disease, though local and regional hospitals take people from all over the area.
In Wichita, hospitals have run out of COVID-19 designated ICU beds with 110 hospitalized in the city for the disease and the 60 available ICU beds full.
Should Harvey County suddenly experience a large need with a jump in the number of cases, Newton Medical Center, which Redington said was doing fine, might present the only available option.
The other logistical issue the jump in cases created has been contact tracing, or calling those who may have been exposed to an infected person.
The action helps people quarantine, in order to slow down the spread of the disease.
“We are becoming overwhelmed to a point,” she said. “We are using the resources of KDHE. They have contact tracers and case investigators for us.”
She said the department usually works to inform people of their exposure within a 24-hour time-period of the department finding out about a positive test result.
She said that with the shortage of resources, the county might not be able to make that time window.
In the one case where a Harvey County Now employee has been under quarantine, the employee was notified by the health department about their exposure a little under 48 hours after the person who they were exposed to had called and informed them.
Redington said one way for people to help slow the spread was for positive cases to inform their close contacts right away.
“If you know you’re a positive case and you know contacts you’ve had within six feet or less for 10 minutes or more, please talk to those individuals,” she said. “If a case is aware and they can contact individuals, that’s great.”
The health department will still contact such individuals, but it gives the exposed people a head start in isolating themselves from others.
Redington said an exposure would include people you spent time with up to 48 hours before symptoms appeared.
Those in quarantine need to quarantine for 14 days, she said.
“We’ve seen people go all the way to 13 and the symptoms start.”
Driving the increase in cases is a number of factors. A large cluster at AGCO has increased county numbers. The county also has smaller cluster’s it’s dealing with at Hesston and Bethel College, as well as one at Kidron Bethel retirement home, though Redington said there has been no new cases at Kidron Bethel following additional testing.
She said many people are also contracting the disease from sick family members to healthy ones.
“We do see a lot of transmission within the household,” she said. “The last report was 52 percent of those in household become a case, as well. Our numbers are probably higher than 50 percent.”
She gave an update on county gating criteria during the conference, which helps the county determine where in its recovery plan it moves. The county has been in the phase out part of its plan with basically no limits on gathering or activity since early summer.
Hospital capacity and tracing ability have been moved down to the county’s lowest rating level of red.
Right now, disease spread is at a yellow rating.
“We will be meeting tomorrow morning and may be reconsidering that with the more than doubling of cases,” she said.
Testing supplies, access to personal protective equipment and deaths are all in the green zone.
The county has had one death over the last week, bringing the total to nine. Deaths often lag infection spikes by a number of weeks.
She said that the county health department has spoken with its chief medical officer about the worsening gating criteria.
“At this point in time, we’re not looking at limiting mass gatherings,” she said. “We’re not ready for that. We still feel folks wearing their masks, keeping the distance, washing their hands, we can do alright.”
As for what people, who wish to slow the increase of COVID-19 can do, she gave a number of steps.
“I want folks to be real conscious of where they’re going and what they’re doing,” she said. “Avoid large gatherings. Do the essential things you need to do and then go home. Be sure to sanitize. Wipe the high touch areas you have. We do want to slow the spread. It’s very infectious. Just keep that in mind and keep our distance and say ‘hi’ with a wave.”
People might consider holding their gatherers outside if possible, she said.
Harvey County is not alone in the state dealing with the spike in disease. Statewide, Kansas recorded 4,046 new cases in three days, representing the highest spike the state’s seen during the outbreak. Sixty-one hospitalizations were added, as well as 17 deaths. Statewide, the death toll is now 1,046.