County Commissioner Chip Westfall has received phone calls, letters and emails asking him when Harvey County will “reopen” — lift limitations on group sizes and allow businesses to reopen.
“I remind them that it is a state order,” Westfall said.
He is referencing executive orders by Gov. Laura Kelly that shut down “nonessential” business and limited social gatherings to 10 people or fewer in an effort to slow or reduce COVID-19 infections statewide. The first order signed expired April 19, however, Kelly extended the order through May 3.
As of Tuesday’s commission meeting, there were five presumptive positive cases of the disease found in Harvey County, with 143 people tested, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Three people have been hospitalized, with one remaining in the hospital at this time. There have been two deaths to county residents — both were hospitalized outside of the county and both classed as “probably” cases by KDHE.
Testing continues in the county, though it is limited to those with symptoms of COVID-19. That is also the case in Sedgwick County, which has opened a larger testing site.
“Sedgwick County has a testing site. Individuals must be pre-screened by calling 211,” said Lynette Redington, director of the Harvey County Health Department. “You do need to have symptoms. ... We are not testing anyone who is asymptomatic.“
Thinking regionally is something Westfall encouraged — there are thousands of people who commute from Harvey County to Sedgwick County for work, and vice versa.
According to statistics shared at the meeting from regional employment centers, more than 120 companies in the region have suffered a shutdown, layoff or furlough.
Expansion of testing will be, according to Redington, key to the plan for “reopening” not only the county, but the state.
“Widespread testing is one of the most important factors in how we can safely get our lives back to normal and businesses can start to reopen,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. “I have spoken directly with President Trump and a number of my colleagues in the Senate regarding testing, and I will continue to do everything I can to get more people tested in Kansas and across the country as a member of the White House Economic Recovery Task Force. For our economy to recover, we need widespread testing so Americans can feel secure in their health and safely return to work.”
The return to work is something that county administration is preparing for — looking at how to begin opening up parts of the economy when stay-at-home orders begin to expire.
County emergency preparedness staff and county administration have formed working groups to put together that plan.
Groups coming together include an economic group, education group, faith-based group, health and social services group and the Harvey County Council of Governments.
The long-term community recovery plan being put together will operate on a series of triggers, and will monitor when the number of infections peaks and begins to decline. It also accounts for a second rise in the number of infections.
“There are triggers along the way, that may be cause to go back up a little,” said Anthony Swartzendruber, county administrator. “The only thing we know right now is the governor order is though May 3 ... We have to have discussions prior to that date so we can have a local plan.”
One option that may be explored is to go away from a statewide plan, keeping the orders in place for hot spots and leaving other counties to make their own decisions.
“If she does extend it, that is a trigger in our plan. ... We will be ready for it,” said Dan Bronson, assistant county administrator.
In other business, the commission:
• Discussed the county parks. Park staff is returning to full staff this week. Park rangers will be paired with the same partners each day, and social distancing will be observed by staff. Portable bathrooms remain in place as the county tries to acquire proper cleaning supplies.
• Discussed a request from Darlington Township. The township is seeking assistance from the county for the removal of some trees near the entrance of Camp Hawk. The commission chose to send the township a cost estimate and timeline for having the county remove the trees.
• Learned that Reno County chose to keep landfill fees flat this year, pushing any rate increase to next year.
• Approved the purchase of two snow plows for the Road and Bridge department.
• Approved the purchase of chemicals for the noxious weeds department.
• Considered grant applications for Harvey/McPherson County Community Corrections.