Local businesses and organizations took part in a webinar with Lyon County Public Health officials Tuesday morning to learn more about how recent emergency public health orders may affect them.
Participants were able to submit questions to the health center through the Emporia Area Chamber of Commerce and Emporia Main Street ahead of time, and also had the chance to ask questions during the meeting.
Jennifer Millbern, environmental health director and public health services director at Flint Hills Community Health Center, said one of the top questions they had received over the last few weeks was the difference between a self-quarantine and an isolation.
“Quarantine is when an individual has been exposed to a known person with COVID-19 disease or has traveled to an area where there is community spread and has been listed in a travel advisory for the State of Kansas,” Milbern said. “Those individuals are asked to go home and stay in their house for 14 days, and during that time period they are asked to monitor for signs of illness.”
Should those individuals develop symptoms while in quarantine, they are required to contact immediately either the health center or their primary care provider for further instructions.
“An individual is asked to go into isolation when they are positive for the COVID-19 disease or when they have been tested and are waiting for test results,” Millbern said. “They have to remain in isolation until we get a negative test result back.”
Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 remain in isolation until they are symptom free for a period of seven days and fever-free without fever-reducing medication for 72 hours.
Millbern said businesses had asked why the health center was not revealing more information about those who have recently tested positive for COVID-19 within the county. She said the investigation process is thorough enough to mitigate the risks to the community without breaking a patient’s confidentiality.
“We don’t release information on those individuals to protect their privacy,” she said. “It doesn’t really do a lot of good to say that this individual was in a location when we have already evaluated whether that location poses any kind of risks. We will go and contact the people that were in that location at that time.”
Another question received by the health center was related to proper cleaning and disinfecting measures to prevent COVID-19 spread.
Millbern recommended visiting the Kansas Department of Environment and Health’s COVID-19 resource page at www.kdheks.gov/coronavirus and following the tab to “cleaning.”
“They have a list for COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2, for products that you can use against that,” she said. “Some of these disinfectants you can get off of the normal store shelves. They’re not special disinfectants you have to order.”
SOS, Inc. Executive Director Connie Cahoone had a question about essential services during a possible stay-at-home order.
“Once we get closed down, if Lyon County does do a stay-at-home order, how would we provide information to our staff to be able to not get in trouble and be out taking care of clients?” she asked.
Millbern said while a team has been working on drafting stay-at-home orders, nothing was complete yet. The county was not prepared for an announcement made Monday by Gov. Laura Kelly in which she listed Lyon County as one of several Kansas communities with existing orders in place.
“The governor has promised some guidance,” Millbern said. “We want to follow state guidance. We think that’s best for our community and state to have some continuity.”
Millbern said the orders will be clear in what are allowable business operations and what are not.
Kala Maxfield of ValuNet Fiber asked how many hospital beds were available in the community and what plans were in place if more were needed.
Newman Regional Health is licensed for 25 beds, though emergency orders are in place that releases more.
“It’s probably safe to say our local hospital could not handle more than 50 patients at one time, and it may even be less than that significantly,” Millbern said.
Millbern said there were plans in place for additional beds if needed, similar to what is being seen in other communities during the pandemic. The hope, she said, is by implementing social distancing measures now, the community is able to flatten the curve before the disease accelerates and infections become uncontrollable.
In a phone interview with The Emporia Gazette after the meeting, Chamber of Commerce CEO Jeanine McKenna said her office had received a lot of calls and emails from area businesses with questions and concerns over the last few weeks. She believed some of those questions were answered Tuesday morning, though the top concern for many employers involves a potential stay-at-home order.
“A lot of people are concerned about a potential stay-at-home order and what does that mean for them and their business, and how can they conduct business?” she said. “You know, what is an essential workforce, how is it defined? The thing is, there is so much information out there from various entities and it’s all different and they did a good job explaining that it is so dependent on location.”
McKenna said the chamber was working to help businesses prepare for those next steps. She said Regional Development Association President Kent Heermann was working with local manufacturers to see what assistance might be needed on that end.
McKenna said it was important to try to support local businesses as much as possible through the pandemic. She suggested purchasing gift cards to help businesses with cash flow or ordering food for delivery or curbside pick-up at local restaurants.
The chamber also has a section of its website dedicated solely to COVID-19 impacts on local business. Visit emporiakschamber.org for updates.
“We are working diligently through all of this,” McKenna said. “If we go into a full lockdown, we at the chamber aren’t going to stop working on this. This is the utmost importance to us. These are our friends and neighbors. We have such a good community here, and we’d like to see it continue. We’re going to do what we can here to ensure that.”