Updated: Harvey County Health Department recommends wearing face masks in schools, indoor settings

Chad Frey
The Kansan

Harvey County was classed as a "substantial spread" county for COVID-19 earlier this week by the Center for Disease Control, leading to new recommendations for the public from the Harvey County Health Department. 

The Harvey County Health Department  issued a recommendation July 29 that face masks be worn in all indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status.

The Harvey County Health Department is recommending face masks be worn in all indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status.

Lynette Redington, director of the Harvey County Health Department, reported July 28 that the county had reported 23 new cases in about four days of reporting this week. She had six more on her desk at the time — making that number 29. The previous week, there were 20 cases reported. 

So far in Harvey County there have been "breakthrough" cases — those who have been fully vaccinated testing positive for COVID-19. 

"Not just in Harvey County, but across the state, the total of breakthrough cases is less than one percent," Redington said. "And if you get COVID and you have been vaccinated, it is less severe than if you have not been vaccinated."

According to Redington and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, 51.8 percent of vaccine eligible county residents have been vaccinated. 

The mask recommendation has not been presented to the Harvey County Commission, which serves as the Harvey County Board of Health, for the consideration of a mandate or stronger measures. The next meeting of the commission and board of health will be Aug. 3. 

The recommendation is made in consultation with Dr. Doyle Detweiler, public health officer for Harvey County.

“This a recommendation, not a requirement, but we need to emphasize the urgency of sound public health precautions,”  Redington said. “Our duty is to promote public health tools and education. Wearing a face mask around others and getting a COVID-19 vaccination are two significantly effective measures against COVID-19.”

The recommendation includes encouraging staff and students to wear a face mask inside educational facilities.

Newton USD 373 has not issued new guidance at this time, meaning mask use in schools is optional.  The next meeting of the board of education will be Aug. 9. School is scheduled to start Aug. 12. 

"We don not have any special meetings scheduled next week for that purpose," said superintendent Fred Van Rankin. 

The Health Department’s recommendation follows in line with guidance presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this week. CDC data cites Harvey County as having substantial community transmission of COVID-19 as of July 26.

Harvey County recorded 40 new COVID-19 cases from July 12 to July 26. Conversely, there were only two known active cases in the county as of July 6. The majority of new cases are among unvaccinated individuals.

“The COVID-19 vaccines are free and readily available through health providers across Harvey County, including here at the Health Department” Redington said. “Vaccines save lives, reduce severe illness and diminish the spread of COVID-19.” Harvey County data on COVID-19 can be found at harveycounty.com/covid19stats. Individuals can find local health providers with the vaccine of their choosing at vaccines.gov.