ROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times
A short series of local emergency meetings has taken place within the last week, the first of which took place Friday night with the Seward County Commission and health care workers discussing the possibility of shutting down some scheduled events due to the possible spread of the Coronavirus.
Commission Chairman Nathan McCaffrey said Friday’s meeting was called by Administrator April Warden, who joined the meeting via telephone, to see what should be done after the Kansas State Board of Education put a mandate on events with 100 or more people involved. Later, school were closed across Kansas for a week.
“There was a meeting earlier this afternoon which precipitated this,” he said Friday. “The meeting involved personnel from the county, especially the health department, emergency management services and Southwest Medical Center and USD 480,” he said. “A portion of that meeting centered around large crowd events in our community and how we want to handle that, which has led us here to this point.”
Warden then ran through the events which have been scheduled through the next month at the Seward County Activity Center and Ag Building. Some of those events include an enrollment for the Head Start and Bright Start programs scheduled for today and Wednesday, ‘That’ Liberal Band’s Fish Fry scheduled for March 27, several quinceaneras, Memorial Library’s Children’s Healthy Fun Fair on April 4, and a concert featuring the Josh Abbott Band on April 11.
The commission would opt eventually to call off all events at the Activity Center and Ag Building through April 11, but Warden also went through others scheduled for later next month, including extreme midget wrestling and a Liberal High School After Prom event, both set for April 18, Seward County’s own County Government Days April 21-22 and the LHS academic awards on April 27.
The events after April 11 are still pending a later review of conditions by the commission, most likely at its April 6 meeting, to see if the board wishes to extend the suspension.
Friday, Warden was asked if she had contacted any of the organizers of those events. She said she had not and was simply looking for direction from the commission as to what should be done.
“I did not feel comfortable contacting any event organizers until the commissioners had an idea of what threshold they were looking at and what guidance you were going to provide staff to begin contacting this people,” she said.
Monday, Kansas Gov Laura Kelly made the decision for Seward County and the entire state, banning all gatherings of more than 50 for 60 days.
Seward County Health Department Administrator Martha Brown said a group of emergency leaders in the county began meeting March 9, and with a small group initially, she said that group has grown since then.
“Now, there’s about 12 of us. It’s both of us, the hospital, the schools,” she said. “We’ve been in e-mail communication with the college, but no one from there has attended any of the meetings at this point.”
Brown said group members had discussed all of the guidance they had been given, and ultimately, decisions boiled down to the health department with advice from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
“The final word comes from you guys as the board of health,” she said. “My job is to give you the best direction I can about those kinds of things.”
Brown said numbers given as to how many people should be part of a current large crowd event varied all the way from 100 to 500. Brown added, though, she believes that number is nearly irrelevant. Kelly’s order dropped the number to 50.
“The whole point is to avoid spreading this illness if we, in fact, have it in our community,” she said. “We’ve had a couple of people tested at this point. We have no results, but if it’s positive, it definitely changes things. I think it will happen regardless whether it’s this week or next week or whenever. The whole point is you want to limit the transmission of this virus between people.”
Brown said many ideas have been discussed by the group from quarantine isolation, who people should call, who will give tests and who will mail them.
“The conversation has come up about the schools starting up again on Monday, and that hasn’t been decided yet either,” she said.
Since then, all schools in Kansas have canceled class for this week, following last week’s spring break, and Brown said the cancelations primarily have to do with limiting contact to limit the spread of Coronavirus.
“Our main goal is to protect everybody, and the less we get together and the less we share air space and hands and hugs, the better off we’re going to be until this blows over and we know how we’re going to handle it,” she said.
Seward County Emergency Management Director Greg Standard said messages in the last several weeks from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and KDHE have been consistant in the discouragement of large gatherings.
“Everybody’s in agreement that we need to avoid those as much as it’s possible to do so,” he said.
The number of 100 came from KSBE, who called the Liberal Chamber of Commerce Friday to inform them that the annual Chamber Bash scheduled for Saturday night at LHS had been canceled.
“That state board of education made a decision based on information in front of them, and they chose a number they thought would serve their purposes to protect the students,” Standard said.
Standard said should preventative measures prevail, plenty of testing supplies should be available as they are needed.
“There’s no shortage,” he said. “We’re going to test everyone who needs to be tested. We have beds in the hospital that are ready to care for people who are ill.”
Should those measures not be followed, though, Standard said hospitals could likely run out of beds, and other problems will occur.
“A large part of what we’re trying to accomplish is to reduce the spread, not get into a community spread where we’re going to overtax our resources,” he said. “If we become overtaxed, that’s where we’re going to lose people. As long as we can provide adequate care, we feel pretty good we can get most people through this if they do get it.”
Recommendations from health care providers was not to share any concerns with a primary health care provider and then follow their instructions. Heading straight to the hospital with a cough or flu-like symptoms was not the first course. Before coming to Southwest Medical Center, officals said after attempting to reach a primary care provider, call the hospital first at 620-624-1651.
Standard then outlined what would happen if a person is confirmed with any transmissible disease, not just coronavirus.
“Martha’s got to contact all the people they came into contact with, and she’s got to come and get all the people those people were in contact with,” he said. “We’re going to ask those people to go into isolation and find out if they really have it or don’t. If those numbers turn into a thousand or 2,000 people, it’s almost impossible to trace it back and find out what happen. We’re trying to avoid those situations where it becomes unmanageable and we can’t easily follow up with what went on.”
SCHD Nurse Melissa Parker said what the emergency group is trying to do is be conservative and prevent people from having to be quarantined for 14 days.
“We have no cure,” she said. “There’s no treatment. There’s no vaccine. At this point, if you were positive, if your symptoms were not severe enough to require you to be hospitalized, we’re going to send you home anyway. At that point, you will have to be quarantined.”
McCaffrey said current coronavirus may not match up with that of influenza, but the virus is new and different, leaving medical workers with a lot of unknowns at this time.
“As of Feb. 27, just cases in the United States, there were 16,000 deaths from the flu,” Parker said. “We haven’t had near that many deaths from coronavirus. However, percentage wise, the mortality rate from the flu has been 0.7 percent, whereas with coronavirus, it’s been more than 2 percent.”
Seward County EMS Director John Ralston said most U.S. hospitals run at 60 to 70 percent occupancy, leaving them with only 30 to 40 percent left for influx of capacity.
“If we’re treating all coronavirus, there’s no beds left to treat just normal run-of-the-mill stuff,” Parker said.
Ralston said coronavirus impacts everything on the table, and this is the overwhelming part of the equation.
“I think minimizing the activities, we’ve got to look at that, and we’ve got to do the right thing for the community,” he said.
“If today we had a case in this county, in about 14 days, anyone else they had contacted and had spread it to would be coming online being tested, and we would know how many more,” Standard said. “Then 14 days after that, that same thing would repeat. To a point, 30 days from now, we’ll really know where we stand looking around the rest of the United States, what’s going on, if it’s got smaller, if it’s going away, if it starts continuing to spread. I’m thinking a one-week probably doesn’t accomplish very much. We probably need to look into a 30-day action.”
“I just think we have a lot of work yet to do once we make a decision of what we’re going to base that magic number off of,” Warden said.
“It’s not an absolute science at this point because there’s so many things they don’t know,” Brown said. “The more we find out, the more we’ll know.”
“In 30 days, the picture of this is going to be a lot different,” Ralston said. “It’s changed every day this week.”
Near the end of the discussion, McCaffrey made the motion that effective Sunday, March 15, currently scheduled events at the Ag Building and Activity Center, regardless of size, would not be allowed to be held for a period of 30 days. In addition, no new activities would be allowed to be scheduled during that period of time.
The suspension is to run through April 11, and McCaffrey said further suspension could be reviewed at the commission’s April 6 meeting.
Commissioner Ada Linenbroker advised people to take further steps to avoid contact and the possible spread of Coronavirus.
“They’ve got to be careful themselves and make their own decisions for staying out of large groups of people right now,” she said. “It’s not all on us. It’s on each individual person to figure out what they’re willing to risk and what they’re doing.”
Commissioner Randy Malin seconded the motion, and the board voted 5-0 to approve it.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Earl Watt contributed to this report.