COVID-19 cases down slightly, medical center remains at capacity

By Blake Spurney

Harvey County Health Department Director Lynnette Redington told the Board of Harvey County Commissioners on Tuesday there were 256 active cases of COVID-19 in the county as of Monday.

That number represents a decrease of 31, compared to the previous week. The county is averaging 18 new cases per day. Redington said 16 patients were in regional hospitals and that Newton Medical Center was at full capacity in its COVID-19 unit as of Monday.

Redington said fatigue had set in with health-care workers at Newton Medical Center due to the daily grind. She said the more people who can stay out of the hospital, the better it would be. She added that the hospital was still able to provide care.

Redington said Health Ministries Clinic was holding a clinic this Saturday to provide health care workers vaccinations. She said the clinic received the Moderna vaccine, while Newton Medical Center received the Pfizer vaccine. The health department received a shipment of vaccines Dec. 21 and is working with rescue workers to get them vaccinated. She said all health care workers would complete the vaccination process by the end of January.

Redington said Newton Medical Center had exhausted its supply, and she didn’t know when it would receive more doses. She said long-term facilities in the county received COVID-19 vaccinations this week from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Commission Chairman Randy Hague said the vaccination was developed at “warp speed” but was being distributed at a “snail’s pace.”

Redington said the health department was doing the best it could to get vaccinations. She said more than 2,000 COVID-19 tests had been performed at Newton High School. The statewide program, which is part of GoGetTested.com, is moving the testing location on Dec. 31 to Chisholm Trail Shopping Center. Other testing locations include Harvey Drug and Hesston Pharmacy.

Commissioners approved extending emergency paid sick leave and emergency family and medical leave benefits for employees. County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber said 41 employees had used 1,844 hours of emergency paid six leave, which cost the county about $36,000. Over half of that amount came during the past six weeks. Each employee has up to 80 hours paid sick leave he or she can claim under Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which went into effect April 1.

Swartzendruber said 10 employees used up their entire 80 hours of sick leave, while no one has used any family and medical leave. Commissioners followed his recommendation of not extending the period in which one can use the benefits but not increasing the maximum allocation per employee. The county will get a portion of the expense reimbursed through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding.

Hague said commissioners needed to take care of the employees because it wasn’t their fault that COVID-19 was ravaging people’s lives.

Commissioners approved a $45,000 amendment to the CARES Act direct-aid plan for USD-373.The district requested the change for improvements to heating and air systems, signage to promote social distancing and health warnings and for tables and carts to expand lunchroom space. Swartzendruber said the county’s CARES Act committee unanimously approved the request.

Commissioners also approved a reimbursement report for how nearly $7 million in CARES Act funding was spent. Swartzendruber said the county’s balance from those funds would be zero on Dec. 30.

In other business, commissioners:

•approved a fee schedule for 2021 for the health department. Mark Bowman, physical management coordinator, said the vaccination fees for the regular flu and a couple of other items were increasing, based on cost increases from the manufacturer. The health department reevaluates its fee schedule every six months.

•appointed Patsy Penner to the Harvey County Food & Farm Council and reappointed Sharon Entz, Constance Gehring, Joel Hurd and Carol Sue Stayrook-Hobbs.

•authorized proceeding with the awarding of a $6.1 million bid to Dondlinger and Sons for the reconstruction of a taxiway at Newton City-County Airport. A federal grant will cover all but $685,429 of the expense, and the county and City of Newton will split the remainder. The bid is subject to approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

•approved the purchase of a used 2018 Caterpillar wheel loader for $149,000 from Foley Equipment for the solid waste department.

•adopted a resolution that allows county counselor Greg Nye to begin the foreclosure process for those who are delinquent on paying their property taxes.

•approved paying weekly bills totaling $378,17.65 for the week ending Dec. 18 and approved paying weekly bills totaling $985,219.43 for the week ending Dec. 24.

•went into executive session for 15 minutes to discuss litigation and matters covered by attorney-client privilege.

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