State decision on COVID-19 tests has local impact

COVID-19 cases have now dropped below 100 according to County numbers.

By Adam Strunk

This week, the state of Kansas announced it would no longer fund COVID-19 tests.

For much of the pandemic, testing has been free in various locations in Harvey County, such as the Chisholm Trail Outlet Mall, Harvey Drug and Hesston pharmacy.

How does that affect the county? It depends.

Department of Health Director Lynnette Redington said her department was still trying to gather information about the issue after the announcement late Monday.

She said that her understanding was the state would continue to try to operate one free testing site per county.

She said she’s sent an email to the mass testing site at Chisholm Trail.

“I’m going to put in hope that ours is going to continue under management from KDHE,” she said.

A representative of Harvey Drug and Hesston Pharmacy confirmed the site was funded by the state. With the new announcement, there hadn’t been decisions made on how future testing costs would be assessed to those that use the site.

Many larger businesses in the county use regular testing as a way to ensure the safety of their employees or as a way to comply with federal health mandates, while not requiring staff to be vaccinated.

Federal mandates require insurance to pay for tests for symptomatic people, but not regular surveillance testing.

While the change could affect the non-profit or private industry, school testing, as well as testing of retirement communities, will remain funded through state or federal streams.

Countywide, the percentage of people taking tests and testing positive for COVID-19 continues to increase.

This week, numbers from the Harvey County Health Department showed that the two-week positivity rate was up to 1.4 percent from last week to 9.4 percent.

“Unfortunately, our two week percent positivity rate is still going up,” Redington said. She said the department is seeing more community spread, as well with those testing positive not knowing where they contracted the disease.

Seven hundred eighty-one PCE tests were conducted and 221 new people were tested. Since the pandemic began, 21,000 residents have had a test and 47,000 total tests have been conducted.

The county has 108 active cases and saw 98 new cases this week.

Of those cases, a third involved those who were already vaccinated.

“We’ve had breakthrough cases again. That’s why the booster is good,” she said.

Redington stressed that cases for those who’ve had breakthroughs have mostly been mild.

Since June 17, when the county had its first breakthrough case, 14 of those vaccinated have been hospitalized, compared to the 59 non-vaccinated people who were hospitalized over the same period.

In total, 84 residents have died from COVID-19.

Booster shots have been approved for those over 65, those with health conditions and those working in high risk professions. Redington said that the criteria is very broad and encouraged those interested and able to get a booster shot.

“We are not required to ensure you meet the criteria,” she said.

Boosters are available in several locations in the county, including health clinics, Harvey and Hesston Drug, as well as through the health department.

In other vaccination news, the FDA authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines for those between the ages of 5-11, and final approval is expected within days.

“Go to vaccines.gov to see where vaccines are available,” Redington said. “When 5-11-year-olds are authorized, we’re going to hope that vaccines.gov is up to date and can show local providers.”

The approval should help curtail spread with the county’s younger demographics, as they’ve continued to see some of the largest percentages of cases in recent months.

In total, 51.5 percent of the total county population is fully vaccinated. Of the eligible population, 60.8 percent are completely vaccinated.

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