Commission renews crowd limits

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Harvey County

On Nov. 24, 2020, the Harvey County Commission took action, with support from local public health officer Doyle Detwiller, to adopt a mass gathering limit of 10. That order came with an expiration date. 

On Jan. 5, the commission took up the issue again, and they chose to extend the mass gathering limits, without an expiration date. The limit will remain in place until rescinded by the commission.

"If we want to knock this down in 90 to 100 days, people need to get better at masks and vaccines are coming online," said Commissioner Chip Westfall. "We don't want another spring or summer without any activities, and this is how you get to that point."

He made a motion to extend the health order, which was seconded by Commission Chair Randy Hague. 

"We see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Randy Hague, chair of the county commission. "[COVID-19] is not the freight train coming at us that it has been. It will probably be four to six months before we can get enough vaccine before it can make a difference. 

Commissioner Ron Krehbiel was absent. 

The action comes in the form of an order of the local health officer.

On a weekly basis, the Harvey County COVID-19 Task Force reviews the county's gating criteria. Four of the county's six criteria continue to be in the red category —  disease spread, regional hospital capacity, deaths and the health department and Kansas Department of Health and Environment's ability to keep up with case investigation and contact tracing.

"We are getting an average of 28 cases a day over the past two weeks or so," said Lynette Redington, director of the Harvey County Health Department. "Half of those are backlogged individuals that did not get reviewed during their 10-day isolation period. ... It is a little frustrating at times, to have that backlog."

As of Monday, the county logged 255 active cases of COVID-19, with 13 hospitalizations. 

Redington said there are a number of deaths "in the cue" to be reported — those deaths are awaiting confirmation of a COVID-19 listing on a death certificate. 

The extension came with the support of Newton Med. 

"The hospital continues to see high overall volumes and high COVID-19 patient volumes. The emergency department continues to see multiple COVID-19 persons daily, " wrote Val Gleason, president and CEO of Newton Medical Center in a letter to the commission. "We have unfortunate COVID-19 deaths across a wide age spectrum at hour hospital. The hospital pleads with the community to limit contact with other persons and wear face coverings."

Newton Medical Center has started vaccinations of medical staff — exhausting an initial supply of about 300 doses of a vaccine by Pfizer and stretching those doses to more than 350. The Health Department has exhausted an initial shipment of 200 doses of a vaccine by Moderna, giving those to first responders. Health Ministries is using 800 doses, as well — vaccinating more than 200 health care workers last weekend and now planning with the health department who will get the vaccine next. 

Area long-term care facilities have started vaccinations, as well, though numbers are not currently available for those doses. 

It is unclear when more doses will be available — the state has an opportunity to order more later this week. According to Redington, the county health department may receive more doses next week. 

In other business, the county:

• Received an update on changes to the county insurance programs.

• Named the Newton Kansan the official county newspaper for 2021. 

• Hosted the annual meeting of the county public building commission. 

• Designating Intrust Bank as the Official Depository for the Public Funds of Harvey County.

• Approved a pay increase for county employees.