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May 26th, 2020

3 29 20 county briefingEli Svaty, public information officer for the local emergency operations center, talks about the county’s emergency alert system that can be utilized by residents to keep updated on the COVID-19 situation in the area. L&T photo/Robert PierceROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times


Local emergency officials updated the public Sunday on the progress that has been made in the last two weeks to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Eli Svaty, the public information officer for the local emergency operations center, first reviewed what has happened since the establishment of the EOC on March 18 through coordinated work between Seward County, the City of Liberal and Southwest Medical Center.

“Since then, the efforts of the unified command have been declared and prepared for potential effects of the COVID-19 outbreak,” he said. “On a conference call two times every day, members of the local emergency operation center communicate with the statewide emergency operations center, representatives from all 105 counties and representatives from 15 emergency support functions and other state departments.”

Svaty said the purpose of these calls is to clarify new information coming out from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and other state agencies, answer questions that counties or regions might have and build a network of resources and support across the state.

Svaty said as of Sunday, Seward County did not have a confirmed case of coronavirus.

“However, we are preparing on all levels should the event arise,” he said. “As this virus spreads, positive cases have been confirmed in counties near us, including Stevens County and Finney County. Over the course of the outbreak, Governor Kelly has used her executive powers to enact means to slow the spread of the virus and keep Kansas safe.”

Svaty then talked about the executive orders Kelly has issued, particularly the most recent, a stay-at-home order issued Saturday that went into effect early Monday morning.

“While this does not prohibit people from leaving their homes, the purpose is to limit the movement to essential functions only,” he said. “Additionally, if you are a local business and you are unsure if you qualify as an essential function, please read the full executive order. If it is still unclear, the state has established a portal for you to send your questions.”

Svaty said KDHE continues to update its travel guidelines in response to COVID-19.

“In response to those, the Seward County Health Department advises any person finding it essentially necessary to travel beyond Seward County, familiarize yourself with the COVID-19 situation of both your destination and locations in between,” he said. “Please use caution when returning from out of county travel, and contact the Seward County Health Department for additional guidelines about the need for self-quarantine upon return.”

Svaty later reviewed some of the guidelines for not spreading coronavirus.

“Simply put, social distancing is for everyone,” he said. “Keep your six feet distance in public. Cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Use hand sanitizer, and if you feel sick, stay home.”

Svaty said several states, including neighboring Colorado, have been added to KDHE’s travel restrictions list. He then addressed a question from media as to the number of degrees a person could be from another person who could potentially have COVID-19.

“KDHE guidelines state a contact of a contact is not considered exposure,” he said. “You’ve probably heard personal protective equipment is in short supply. This is a global event. Resources are being taxed everywhere. If you have or know of stockpiles of usable PPE that could be shared with our medical personnel, first responders and long-term care facilities, please reach out to us.”

Svaty said leaders with the emergency operations center are doing everything in their power to lessen the effect of a coronavirus outbreak in area communities.

“We need the help of all of you,” he said. “Follow the guidelines. The faster we stop the spread of this outbreak, the fast we can return to life as we knew it. It will take sacrifices. It already has, but we do this for the greater good.”

Svaty said Seward County Emergency Management has a resource available should the need rise for alerts to be sent out.

“This information will be posted to you later,” he said. “You can sign up to be part of this particular alert if you would like to receive that notification.”

Seward County Commission Chairman Nathan McCaffrey then answered a question about if Kelly’s stay-at-home order would be enforced by local law enforcement.

“People need to be aware of that executive order and operate under the terms and conditions of that order,” he said. “I think that’s what we expect of our residents here in Seward County. There is no plan to do that at all. It’s mostly an on your honor system to abide by those rules and conditions.”

McCaffrey said the order itself pertains to individuals and does not order any particular business to cease operations.

“It asks or requires people stay at home unless you are leaving your home for what they call an essential reason or essential service,” he said. “Otherwise, you need to stay at home, and that’s what we are expecting of our residents here in Seward County. It does not require any particular business specifically or generally to cease operations, but if you are not an essential business, you should not expect people to be coming into your business because they should be staying at home.”

McCaffrey emphasized there are no plans or intents or even discussions to send local law enforcement out in the community to police citizens or businesses.

Seward County Health Department Administrator Martha Brown said as of now, there are adequate resources to test people who may have coronavirus.

“Seward County has done about 16 tests, and all but two of those have been negative,” she said. “A couple were rejected for not meeting the criteria to test in the first place.”

Brown said results have not been received on two other cases.

“That should be forthcoming in the next day or two,” she said. “They will notify us at the health department if we have a positive test. At that point, a press release will be drafted notifying everyone that Seward County has a positive test.”

Brown then addressed the criteria for testing.

“The requirements are fairly strict from KDHE lab, and mostly, their facility at this point can only do what they can do,” she said. “They’re limiting their testing to people who have other medical issues who are elderly, chronic conditions, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, people who live in group settings such as a nursing home. As far as I know, they have not changed the requirements of having a temperature of at least 100 degrees and having a negative flu test, and they have to have some sort of lower respiratory symptoms.”

Brown also discussed what would happen should a case be found in Seward County.

“If we had a case, the health department is tasked with doing all of the contact investigation, and we would work with that individual who was positive and try to locate everybody who could have been in contact with them during that certain time frame,” she said. “We would contact them individually. If you or someone you know happens to get a phone call, we ask that you be cooperative. We’re not just being nosy. There’s reasons for it, and we can educate about how you might have been in contact with someone.”

As to how a potential case could affect life in Seward County, Emergency Management Director Greg Standard said there are several factors which determine that.

“If it was an individual who was known to have been in contact with a large number of people, that’s going to become much more complicated, and a lot of people are going to enter that quarantine situation at that time,” he said. “You’re going to get a different prescription or a different course of treatment based on the exact circumstances you’re facing at that time.”

SWMC’s Gregg Freelove then addressed a question of how COVID-19 is affecting the treatment of other patients at the hospital.

“What we’ve done at the hospital by limiting  visitors and the various entry point restrictions we have at the hospitals are actually to help those individuals with other issues,” he said. “All of our elective surgeries are canceled. That is being done in an effort to conserve PPE, conserve staff, but if you still need surgery, if you come in with a bad gallbladder and it’s an emergency and it needs to come out, it’s going to happen. We’re still there to take care of the public. That’s our number one job. That’s why we’ve been implementing the measures we have been.”

McCaffrey said officials with the emergency operations center have been in communications with the community’s larger employers regarding coronavirus.

“We are certainly working with the City of Liberal,” he said. “They have a representative on the incident command team. There is coordination occurring at all levels locally between the city and the county, the emergency management side of the situation, which includes the city, the county and Southwest Medical Center. There’s also been a great deal of communication with USD 480 and what they’ve been doing and what they need and how the emergency operations center can help them out, as well as Seward County Community College with Dr. Trzaska and his team. There’s a great deal of communication occurring at those levels too, as well as between the city fire department, the county fire department, the Liberal Police Department, the sheriff’s department, the 911 system, emergency responders. There are communications going on at all times between those organizations as needed. The lack of communication is not a problem I have seen here in our response to the virus.”

Standard said work has been closely done with local long-term facilities to make sure supplies and other items are available to continue operations there.

“We’re doing our best to communicate with everybody that has a role in the community,” he said.

Standard said businesses such as grocery stores will continue to operate as they have to this point.

“Those things are critical, and for our community to survive and live well, we need to keep those things open,” he said. “We realize that, we’re doing everything we can to make sure that can continue.”

Svaty concluded the briefing by urging everyone to use caution during this time.

“As surreal as this might feel, we do want to employ that this is reality,” he said. “We see this virus spreading rapidly across the country, and while we do not have any positive cases as of today, the chances of that remaining in the coming weeks is rather slim. Please take this seriously. Please follow the guidelines. As soon as we socially distance, as soon as we stop the spread, reality will go back to normal, but that will not happen unless you recognize the danger and follow the guidelines.”

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