COVID-19 spread stressing hospital capacity, county health department

By Adam Strunk

There’s no more prevention. Only intervention.

That was the message of Harvey County Health Director Lynnette Redington, who said her department is doing what it can to intervene against the increasing spread of COVID-19.

“We’re shooting up numbers here,” she said, stressing that residents should take warnings about the disease seriously. “On Oct. 26, we had 55 active cases. A week later, we had 123 active cases. As of Nov. 9, we had 171 active cases. Yesterday, we added 33 cases.”

Positive test percentages, an indicator of spread, were at 23 percent in the last week. The previous weekly high, according to KDHE, was 15 percent. The number it previously recommended as a benchmark, was five percent.

Hospitalizations of residents, a lagging indicator of COVID-19 spread, have started to creep up as well, from three the week prior to seven this week.

On Tuesday, according to the Kansas Hospital Association, there were 33 intensive care unit beds available in the south-central Kansas region, which has a population around three quarters of a million people. That number represents a 12 percent capacity.

In the region, the KHA reports 267 are hospitalized from confirmed or likely cases with 91 of those people in the ICU.

Wichita hospitals have been publicizing the fact that they’re past capacity, in an effort to help convince the public to take the pandemic seriously.

Shrinking capacity is starting to be the case in Harvey County, as well.

“NMC has tripled number of COVID-19 individuals in their facility,” Redington said, noting that not all the patients are from Harvey County.

“They are definitely having stress on staff. They are still open for services and want you to know that, as well.”

She didn’t provide a number for patients at Newton Medical Center, but did say she believed the COVID Unit the hospital set aside with room for eight patients was full. She said there was also another section for six patients.

“They didn’t give me a number,” she said. “They said there numbers have tripled.” She added that they could create additional space for patients, as well.

Area residents should take the hospital capacity shortage seriously, Shelly Conrady, director of communications for Newton Medical Center, said in an earlier interview.

“There are things they can be doing to help mitigate the situation,” she said. “We need to keep everyone safe.”

Conrady said that should a resident get in a car accident, have a medical emergency or need hospitalization for COVID-19 or the flu, NMC wants to make sure it has capacity to meet community need.

She said the patients also come on top of normal traffic the hospital sees this time of the year.

“You have people who come in whether it’s a car accident, heart condition, the flu,” she said.

Redington echoed the sentiment, calling on residents to try to slow down the rapid spread.
“We don’t need more spread in our community. We have a hospital and lots of hospitals that are getting overwhelmed,” she said. “We really need to slow this down so everybody can have a life and keep things open.”

As for where the new cases are coming from, Redington said they’re seeing a large number coming from family gatherings. Other people don’t know where they contracted the disease. Still, there are large clusters, such as the cluster of cases at Hesston manufacturer, Agco, last week. There was also a cluster of 30 patients and staff at Asbury Park announced this week.
Redington said the jump in cases has inundated the county’s ability to contact trace.

That means when the department is able to contact tract, it may take days to get phone calls out to close contact.

“If you find out you are positive, go and isolate. Think about close contacts,” she said, explaining those would be people who spent 10 minutes or more within six feet of a positive case within two days of symptoms first showing.
She said people could call those close contacts so they know they need to quarantine.

She said if someone tests positive, but doesn’t have symptoms, they should still inform all those that spent more than 10 minutes with them within six feet at least two days before the positive test.

“Let them know, though you may be very asymptomatic, you need to let folks know that they need to be in quarantine as they would be one of your close contacts,” she said.
She did say the county was seeing recoveries, but those have been dragging out in many cases, resulting in a large number of people in isolation, as well as quarantine.

“Yes, we’re having recoveries, but people are staying in isolation for more than 10 days,” she said. “They are not recovering quickly.”

Redington said the worsening situation prompted the county health department, as well as health officers, to ask the commission to move backwards to Phase Three of its reopening plan that limits gatherings to 45 people.
She said it was a welcome step, especially considering the potential of spread with upcoming Thanksgiving celebrations.

She called on everyone to do what they could to prevent the spread. That means wearing masks washing hands, distancing and avoiding crowds.

“We may have to move to another phase with a stricter mass gathering,” she said, adding that the situation will be reevaluated on Dec. 1.

She said if someone had to hold a Thanksgiving celebration, doing it outside, if possible, was a good idea. 

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