Lyon County Commissioners spent Wednesday’s study session collaborating with local government officials, law enforcement departments and health professionals in preparation for the upcoming announcement of a new public health order.
While representatives from entities such as Lyon County Area Transportation, Lyon County District Court and the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office did have a chance to offer their opinions — with each recommending the wearing of masks in public, at least in some form — the bulk of the debate surrounded information offered by members of Lyon County Public Health and staff from Newman Regional Health.
In addition to recommending a mask mandate, County Health Officer Renee Hively and Flint Hills Community Health Center Environmental Services Director Jennifer Millbern cautioned commissioners against rushing any form of reopening plan or repeal of restrictions. While Lyon County is currently in a favorable position in regards to infections considering other hotspots in the state, the pair emphasized the importance of getting the next few weeks “right” in order to provide a clearer picture of the county’s course of action in the fall.
“The writing on the wall moving forward is that I would maybe expect to see that the opening of schools will be left to the county,” Millbern said. “Right now, Lyon County is sitting in a really good place and we have a fairly low amount of active cases. If we start to see those trends shift and move like has happened in a lot of other communities around Kansas that might not have strategies in place, that could really force us to not open school in the fall.”
Hively warned Public Health could also experience a significant staffing shortage in August when temporary workers from the National Guard and other state health entities will no longer be offering their assistance, making possible spikes even more problematic. The matter of proper, widespread testing also continues to be an issue, Millbern added, as current requirements for state-supplied testing necessitate individuals to have at least two symptoms although many with COVID-19 can often be asymptomatic.
“Fall worries me because we’re usually going to be really busy on the clinic side and we’re not going to be able to pull as many resources over to the public health side,” Hively said. “Currently what you have on the public health side is an oriented LPN and your environmental staff.”
“Something that people may not really realize is that the drive-through testing lane we have right now is run by the National Guard,” Millbern added. “That’s not the health department. All of our contact traces and the disease investigators looking into our active cases, those are temporary staff as well. The person that’s manning our COVID hotline, transferring all of those calls and coordinating test scheduling; that’s all temporary staff. The person that puts together all of the graphs and does data management is temporary staff. They all leave in August… You’re seeing a very good turnaround time and good public service with the staff and the caseload we have right now. If those staff leave and we can’t replace them in some way, the 20 cases we have right now would be more than enough to overload our regular staff.”
In also recommending a mask mandate, Newman Regional Health Chief of Staff Alana Longwell encouraged commissioners to think of the long-term impact of the pandemic, admitting medical professionals still have much to learn about the virus itself. Any method of limiting its spread in the relatively early stages, she said, should be something that’s heavily considered.
“This disease is only nine months old,” Longwell said. “We don’t know what the long-term effects are. There have been people who have been hospitalized who didn’t have initial COVID symptoms, but then had problems develop post-infection with their immune response. We don’t know what they’re going to look like moving forward. We don’t know what lung scarring is going to look like long-term. Even with these people who are asymptomatic, that doesn’t mean that one, three, or five years from now that they’re not going to end up with a reactive airway disease or conditions like COPD.
“What we’ve seen in COVID patients’ lungs during our imaging is so much different than what we see with any other disease. People like to compare this to the flu; if I do a CT scan on somebody with just plain old influenza, it may show a little bit of something, but nothing that we could use to say, ‘Oh, I think this person has the flu.’ When we do a CT scan of someone with COVID, it looks like their lungs are this foggy white. We don’t know what that means long term yet and that’s definitely a concern for even our younger patients … There’s also concerns with the effects the virus has on blood clotting. There’s not been another respiratory virus that causes people to have their legs amputated or one that’s been causing people to need dialysis machines. There’s still so much that we unfortunately don’t know, and I think that’s why we should always err on the side of caution.”
The county’s existing health order - which outlines several requirements for area businesses and limits mass gatherings to 45 people - is set to expire Thursday, at which point the new health order will go into effect. Commissioners expect to release full details around 10:15 a.m.