By Adam Strunk
The Harvey County Health Department has brought back the extra staff it hired in the fall and winter to prepare for an upcoming surge caused by the COVID-19 Delta variant and students returning to school.
Active cases increased to 98 as of Tuesday evening, with the county seeing 16 new cases confirmed on that day. It saw 90 new cases over a week. There are 18 more cases than last week. Seven residents are hospitalized (six unvaccinated) and there’s been an additional recorded death of a county resident who was not fully vaccinated.
“I don’t want it to be as bad as last year,” Health Department Director Lynette Redington said. “None of us do. It was overwhelming to our hospitals, physicians, long-term care facilities and health department.”
Redington said the department strongly, strongly recommends masks with students. While masks were required at the start of last school year when there were far fewer cases (42), no district in Harvey County has required masks so far.
“When masks were in place even the flu season was lower and cases were down, and of course, we had other sanitation and distancing in place. We had all those very much in place with the schools and support was there,” she said. “That’s evidence right there that everyone was practicing and we’re not doing it right now and cases are ramping up.”
Redington said vaccines have been a great preventative tool for fighting COVID-19.
“The vaccine is working. It’s keeping our people out of the hospital. It’s keeping deaths from happening.”
However, the vaccine currently isn’t approved for those under 12 or with other certain health issues. Those youth can then get sick and spread it to families and others.
Anticipating a rapid spread of the more infectious delta variant, Redington and the health department spoke to retirement communities, as well earlier this month recommending a six-week suspension of visiting in anticipation of the spike. She said that while many elderly are vaccinated, many are also immunocompromised and at increased risk from the disease.
She said of the vaccinated breakthroughs requiring hospitalization, the majority of them have been elderly.
“Not stereotyping our older population, but sometimes that population is immunocompromised,” she said, adding that the momentary suspension of visitors would be another layer to keep them safe.
“Prevention is our biggest key.”
Recently, a third COVID-19 shot booster has been approved for certain people who are immunocompromised and the health department has been providing it. Redington said if people think they’re eligible, they should ask their medical provider or health department.
As cases continue to increase across the region, hospitals have grown increasingly stressed.
In this week’s paper is the story of a McPherson man who had complications following a routine medical procedure and died after several days that his family spent searching to find him a room at a hospital to offer him the specialized care he needed.
According to the Kansas Hospital Associations’ most recent update, 183 patients in south-central Kansas are hospitalized for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases. Sixty-five are in ICU beds. Forty-eight ICU beds remain available in the region (16 percent capacity).
Redington spoke to NMC and she said the hospital was reporting difficulty transporting patients to outside hospitals.
“If they need to transfer patients to other hospitals, it’s going to be very difficult,” she said.”
Redington said that people seem to have gotten out of the habit of taking precautions in terms of preventing COVID-19 spread.
She said the incubation for the disease remains up to 14 days and people should still quarantine for 10 days after exposure and without negative tests for COVID-19, which can shorten the quarantine period.
“Those things people forgot,” she said. “Now that we have the variant that’s extremely infectious, we need to ramp it up and remember this again.”
Vaccinations remain the best way to prevent the disease. Of cases since May, 346 out of 407 (85 percent) have involved those not fully vaccinated. Approximately 280 county residents got a COVID-19 shot for the first time, last week.
Sixty-one percent of eligible residents have now received at least one shot.
“Our breakthrough rate is still low,” Redington said. “It’s a safe vaccine. Protect yourself. Protect your family and friends.”