Our local leaders can save lives: here’s how

You don’t refuse to call 911 as smoke flows under the door because the fire might put itself out.

You take action. A fire is a life or death situation.

So why should we wait for the COVID-19 virus to spread further in Harvey County before taking necessary action to limit it?

We shouldn’t. And our county commission shouldn’t.

The commission needs to take decisive action as soon as possible, follow the lead of other Kansas counties and issue a stay-at-home order to limit the virus’s spread.

In Kansas, where the virus continues to double about every three days, early action could be critical in limiting Harvey County cases and ensuring our existing health systems don’t get overwhelmed, causing needless mortalities.

Taking action will keep our families and loved ones, our health care workers and first responders as safe as possible. Failure to do so could deeply worsen the impact of the virus and cost lives.

The facts on the ground are sobering. Cases have gone from 1,000 nationally on March 10 to 85,000 as of March 27. More than 1,000 have died.

As of Thursday, we now have a confirmed COVID-19 case in Harvey County. Sedgwick County has 16. The state has 170-plus.

We’re seeing what’s coming out of New York City. Medical workers are making due with trash bags as gowns with supplies running out. Refrigerator trucks are parked next to the hospitals to hold bodies; health care providers are joining their patients in succumbing to the illness, and the city is in desperate need of ventilators.

We’ve seen Italy out of ventilators, leaving the elderly to die in order to save younger, more viable candidates as the virus decimated its health care system. With lack of proper medical treatment, the virus’ mortality rate has climbed past 10 percent in the country.

New York took early actions. New York implemented the most robust testing system in the U.S. And still it’s being wrecked. We have no reason to believe there won’t be New York scenarios across the country as the virus takes root and grows in the interior.

Information by Harvard Global Health Institute, using available hospital data, estimates 200 available intensive care beds in the Greater Wichita area, which includes Newton and the better part of the state. To handle a moderate infection over a year, the study projects the area would need three times that number.
Without ICU beds equipped to handle the influx, many patients’ survival chances decrease significantly.

Harvey County Health Officer Dr. Doyle Detweiler said there were a little more than 10 respirators in Newton Medical Center. The hospital communications team disputes the number and says it understates its full capacity and the hospital is upping its amount of respirators. The communication team wouldn’t provide actual numbers on its respirators, however.

Whatever the situation is locally, it doesn’t take much math to realize that if 20 percent of patients need hospitalization and five percent will be critically ill, possibly needing ventilation, we will not be able to handle the need, should the disease continue to spread at current rates.

That stretching point might be as small as 300 to 400 people sick at the same time in the county. Harvey County has 34,500 residents.

This is why we must take action now.

Each person we prevent from spreading the disease initially has a ripple effect in the weeks ahead. The virus has been doubling in Kansas in a little more than three days. One fewer sick person this week could amount to 128 fewer sick people three weeks from now. That’s at current expansion rates.

Distancing people further should decrease those rates, decrease the amount of ill and give our health care systems a better chance to cope.

Better coping means people have a better survival rate, health care workers have a better chance of making supplies last and staying healthy, and as a whole, fewer people die and less damage is done.

Again decisive action by the county will save lives.

We understand that stay-at-home orders have broad exceptions and many will still go out. But they do have an effect, and if you have a leaking roof full of holes, you don’t refuse to fix any of them because you can’t fix all of them.

The board of county commissioners could plug those holes and save lives by putting together such a shelter-in-place plan and implementing it as soon as possible.

That plan will have costs for all of us. Many will be required to stay home, except for essential business, singular exercise or getting food or medical supplies. It also will make it hard on some non-essential businesses, forcing them to close during the order.

We’re taking a hit right now financially due to the virus. Most Harvey County businesses are. We need you to support them. We’re doing what we can to work together on that front. We’d never recommend such an action like a stay-at-home order unless we were facing truly dire circumstances.

But from a public health perspective, delaying necessary steps will only make the disease worse and more deadly when it hits our populations.

Now is the time for our commissioners to lead and take decisive action. Sign a shelter-in-place order. The sooner the better. It doesn’t have to wait until its Tuesday meeting to do so.

Failure to do so puts our nurses and doctors, who will have to handle the influx of illness and be exposed to it, at increased risk. It threatens those who are in essential fields, such as first responders and police officers. And with everyone susceptible, even the young, it puts all of us at risk.

Please, county commissioners, take action and save lives. The lives you save might be your own. They might be doctors or nurses, police officers or EMS workers, our grandparents, parents or siblings. Perhaps even the life of a person reading this.

And for the rest of us, we have a role in this, too. Such measures are for our own good, and we should follow them. Don’t be selfish. Think of your family, friends and neighbors. Stay away from people. Don’t go out unless necessary. Practice good hygiene. Quarantine when sick. We’re all in this together, and our eventual outcome will be determined in part by our actions.

If you also want to see this urgent matter addressed, please contact your elected officials:

George A. “Chip” Westfall, 316-283-5360, chipw58@cox.net

Randy Hague, 316-284-7340, randy@haguespaint.com

Ron Krehbiel, 620-463-2874