The Lyon County Commission decided not to update the county’s public health order Monday morning after hearing from a variety of health officials regarding the local surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
During a special meeting requested by Lyon County Public Heath officer Dr. Ladun Oyenuga, she recommended that the commission implement a mask mandate and a limitation of 40% capacity at event spaces.
“People working in the trenches presently are going through a lot; our health system in Lyon County is basically stretched to our limits,” Oyenuga said. “ … I can’t take responsibility for anybody’s behaviors or choices, but all I can do is try to do is the right thing.”
However, none of the three commissioners was willing to make any changes to the current public health order passed in April 2021, which does not mandate anything but strongly recommends masking, hand-washing and social distancing.
Commission Chairman Rollie Martin said that he believed that following recommended mitigation strategies was a matter of personal responsibility.
“It affects us individually, but I think that as individuals … and as groups, we’re just going to have to figure a way through it,” he said. “There just doesn’t seem to be a win-win situation for everyone.”
Commissioner Scott Briggs said that he didn’t think that a mask mandate would make much of a difference, although he acknowledged that keeping the public health order the same was “a disservice to the health community here.”
“I apologize for this community for not following your lead because we haven’t,” he said. “The mask mandate, last time, people didn’t follow it. I fear that they won’t this time either. … You guys are taking the brunt of this because you’re working extra hours, you’re overwhelmed, there’s really no end in sight again to this. I guess part of me would rather focus on trying to find you more resources to get you help, to get people through this, to get you guys a bit of a break. Because honestly, I think if we use the word ‘mandate,’ we’re going to create a bigger problem.”
Commissioner Doug Peck called on businesses to mandate masks in their locations rather than having governmental bodies do it for them.
“If businesses would put signs up — ‘please don’t come in unless you have a mask on’ — there can be a mandate there,” he said. “They rule what takes place in their business. Walmart, anybody else — ‘don’t come in unless you have a mask on.’ That’s their own mandate for public health and I think more of them need to do that. I was in Walmart the other day and I had my mask on. I was one of few. That’s alright, but I did. Our local businesses need to step up, I think, join the outcry and say, ‘Okay, if you’re going to come into my business, please put a mask on.’”
The decision came after professionals representing Lyon County Public Health, Newman Regional Health and Flint Hills Community Health Center presented the commission a snapshot of the current state of the pandemic in Lyon County.
Lyon County Public Health emergency preparedness coordinator Jennifer Millbern reported that right now the county is diagnosing more than 300 new COVID-19 cases per week after averaging 60-65 new cases per week in September-November and about 180 per week after Thanksgiving.
Millbern also reported that the Omicron variant had not yet been identified in Lyon County and that the recent cases that have been genetically tested are still primarily of the Delta variant.
“We do believe that Omicron is here,” she said. “It’s just that there is a relatively small portion of samples being sequenced at this point in time, so we have not been able to detect it.”
She said that Lyon County is still “riding out the Delta wave” and NRH infection preventionist Ester Knobloch said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s shortened quarantines released last week were in response to the Omicron variant — which is comparatively milder.
However, because the Delta variant appears to be the dominant strain in Lyon County, following the new CDC guidelines could cause problems.
“People that are going out of isolation on day six are still contagious with Delta, which is what we have here,” Knobloch said. “And so if we do not want to see a massive increase in Delta in our community, it’s important for us to continue to stay with that 10-day (isolation).”
NRH chief administrative officer Cathy Pimple reported that the hospital currently has 34 individuals hospitalized. Fifteen of those individuals have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and nine of them are currently on ventilators.
Regarding transfers, Pimple said that NRH is experiencing longer wait times for bed availability at its tertiary hospitals than at any other time in the pandemic, meaning that COVID-19 patients are on ventilators for longer periods of time.
Pimple said that in 2021, 42 individuals in Kansas died while waiting for a transfer, with 30 additional people being shifted from the transfer waitlist to comfort care. Already in Jan. 2022, there have been 14 deaths of individuals awaiting a transfer.
As of Monday, she said, NRH just had one ventilator still available and the hospital will request additional units from the state “within the next 24-48 hours.”
If that request is not granted, Pimple said that NRH would “have to look at shutting down elective surgeries and using anesthesia machines as ventilation support.”
Millbern reported that more than 80% of the COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Lyon County were unvaccinated individuals.
On Monday afternoon, Lyon County Public Health reported 201 new cases of COVID-19 to go along with 202 new recoveries, leaving the county with a total of 480 active cases, 141 of which are considered breakthrough cases.
In total, there have been 7,372 cases of COVID-19 in Lyon County, with 6,792 recoveries and 98 deaths (including four deaths pending certification).