County addresses first COVID-19 case

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Harvey County involves a man in his 20s, who is currently at home recovering from the disease.
The Harvey County Health Department provided a press conference about the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Harvey County.

“We hope this person has a quick and full recovery,” Health Director Lynette Redington said at the conference.

More information on the person, who the person might have come in contact with, where he worked, or how long he had been sick was not available at the conference.

“We’ve started our investigation by contacting the individual and looking at contacts and making contact with those contacts so we can make sure they are aware, and he is in isolation at home,” Redington said. She said the county health department had only found out about the case from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment a few hours prior.
“We wanted to make sure the media and community understood what was happening,” she said.

Redington declined to name a hometown of the patient.

“We’re not going to be sharing the information this evening,” she said.

Redington did say the man had no travel history, and he received his test through the KDHE.

That test was also taken at least before March 23, when KDHE put in more restrictive testing guidelines.

“It takes several days to get test results back, so it was earlier in the week,” Redington said.

Currently, the state limits testing to those in the hospital, those in nursing facilities, first responders, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems and for clusters of unknown respiratory illness.

At the conference, more information was made available about preparedness for a growing outbreak in the county.

Dr. Doyle Detweiler, medical officer for the county and hospitalist at Newton Medical Center, did discuss the number of ventilators at NMC, something that has been an unanswered question in recent weeks.

“We have at least 10 ventilators, I think more,” he said. “We’re also working on ramping up the ability to use more ventilators if we need, meaning training more of the staff to handle those. We’ve already devoted an entire wing to airborne isolation. As the cases come, we’re going to be doing what we need to do to be prepared.”

Ventailators are a last resort for Covid-19 patients with critical symptoms and lung failure and are used to keep them breathing.

The morning after the press conference, NMC communications director Shelly Conrady contacted Newton Now, saying the number of respirators Detweiler listed did not reflect the hospitals’ fullest capacity and he wasn’t speaking on behalf of the hospital.

“The number is not static,” she stated. “We’re working to expand our capacity daily.”
When asked to provide an accurate number of respirators that the hospital has currently, she declined.

“We aren’t going to report fluctuating numbers at this time.”

Detweiler, back at the conference, said the hospital would have capacity to serve far more COVID-19 patients in need of less serious care.

Detweiler went over the necessary protections people should take to avoid contracting and spreading the disease. He emphasized the need for people to stay home and avoid gatherings if possible, as well as wash hands, cover coughs and stay home and call their medical provider if sick and showing COVID-19 symptoms.
“These measures are for you, their friends, their family, their loved ones, people you don’t know,” he said. “We need to come together as a community to stay safe and protect each other.

He recommended staying at home if sick and washing hands.

Symptoms with COVID-19 include shortness of breath, cough, and a fever of 100.4 and above.

“People in Harvey County remain at low risk for COVID-19,” he said. “There’s no reason for alarm. As one of my favorite authors used to say, ‘Don’t Panic.'”

He said he hopes, if more testing becomes available at local levels, there will be more testing in house in Harvey County, allowing for better answers quickly.

He said one problem with current testing is it takes a while for the body to build up antibodies for the virus, so there’s a delay between infection and a positive test.

“If I go up to someone with a vial of nothing but the COVID virus and squirt it in them, they have the virus, but it’s going to take the body a while to make a response,” he said.

He said widespread testing with early symptoms could be bad, because it might yield a negative result, allowing the person a false sense of security, meaning they go out and spread the virus.

“One of my favorite movies is ’28 Days Later.’ From a containment standpoint, that’s a beautiful virus. It’s a zombie apocalypse virus; the virus is spread by blood. You get hit by a drop of blood, and within one minute, you are a zombie […] This isn’t like that,” he said. “This is something that just can get out there and go nutty like we’re seeing all across the world. The key is for all of us to stay safe, stay protective, do what you can. If you start having symptoms, be extra diligent.”

Redington credited the county’s planning for allowing it to quickly deal with the case and ensure no medical professionals were exposed to the virus.
She thanked those involved and also thanked grocery store workers, first responders and public works employees for the work they were doing during the outbreak.

According to the county, more details on the patient will be available in the future.

According to Redington, there is also a stay-at-home order is on the agenda for Tuesday’s county commission.

The commission discussed last Tuesday about holding a special meeting to debate the stay-at-home order, though that was before Harvey County’s first confirmed case.
Redington ended the conference with this advice.

“Stay safe and healthy at home. Continue to wash your hands. If you feel ill, call your provider; do not just go into your doctor’s office.”

Of note, if you’re wondering what author said “Don’t Panic,” that’s Douglas Adams, author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
In a related piece of trivia, the answer to the question of how many more positive cases of COVID-19 the state saw Thursday was 42. That is until the Harvey County Press conference put the number at 43.

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