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COVID-19 headlines seem to change by the hour, but as of March 13 there were no cases in Harvey County, though the virus was found in neighboring Butler County when KDHE announced the six case in Kansas. Later in the day, Newton Medical Center confirmed there were no cases found by the hospital — though it did enact restrictions on visitors.

According county health officials, testing for the virus can be done by local doctors.

"All of our local (health care) providers are working in conjunction with KDHE to prepare for that," said Toby Harkins, assistant director of the Harvey County Health Department. "Our guidance right now is to make a phone call to your provider and follow the direction they have. That phone call portion is important."

Harkins said calling ahead can reduce exposure of others.

Locally, specimens are collected, which are tested by a state lab.

"There are some private labs that are rolling into the testing," Harkins said. "Availability is absolutely here, but the testing is done in specialty labs."

It can take a little time for results to come back.

Harkins told the Kansan that right now, it feels more like "when" the virus arrives in Harvey County, rather than "if." He encouraged the washing of hands and sanitizing surfaces as primary way to prevent the spread of the virus.

"Washing your hands is the most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of infectious disease," he said.

Newton Medical Center

Effective March 16, Newton Medical Center will be restricting visitor access to all NMC locations, including the hospital and clinics in Newton, Hesston, Park City, Valley Center and Wichita.

All patients and visitors will be required to complete a screening prior to entry. The screening will look for respiratory symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath), check on international travel in the last 14 days and ask about close contact with a person that has suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

To limit the potential spread of COVID-19, patients with respiratory symptoms and possible exposure to positive COVID-19 patients will immediately be placed in a mask.

"Current information shows that most who contract the virus can be treated successfully at home," said Val Gleason, NMC chief executive officer. "We recognize that some people with COVID-19 may require hospitalization."

Newton USD 373

Newton USD 373 has not modified the school calendar, with students out of school for a teacher workday March 13 and the following week for spring break. However, RaileRobotics Team 935 will not attend regional competition and FIRST Robotics has canceled all competitions nationwide.

"We continue to monitor this and update pans," Superintendent Deb Hamm told The Kansan.

At about 3 p.m. March 13, the district announced the suspension all athletic and extracurricular activities for USD 373 "indefinitely." This includes all on-site and off-site activities. District staff said activities will be re-evaluated the suspension of prior to March 23, the first day of class after spring break.

"This is a difficult decision to make, but we believe it is the correct one to ensure the safety of our students and staff," wrote Samantha Anderson, district spokesperson. "Just to clarify, we have not had any confirmed cases in our district. This is a preemptive measure."

Please let us know if you have any questions. We will keep you updated if there are any other changes. We also have resources available on our website:

Area colleges

In response to COVID-19, both Bethel and Hesston Colleges set forth a plan of action this week. Both canceled public events.

At Bethel, students are not required to attend classes during the week of March 16 through 20 or during the regularly scheduled spring break, March 23 through 27. Classes will resume March 30 at their regularly scheduled times, in a format to be determined.

On Thursday, March 12, Hesston College announced a plan that includes canceling all college sponsored travel and public events through at least April 13. Spring break begins with the closing of student residence halls on March 14. All college-sponsored spring break travel has been canceled, and students have been given options for both spring break and resuming classes following spring break on March 23. Following spring break on March 23, classes will move to a distance learning format until, at minimum, April 13.

In a statement Thursday, Hesston College encouraged students to reconsider spring break travel plans, particularly for those traveling by air or other mass transit systems and particularly to high-population areas.