Plans are under way to create drive-through testing for the coronavirus at the Arkansas City hospital, and owners of closed businesses in Cowley County are being urged to develop a written plan for how they can reopen safely when the time comes.
In a video address Monday, Cowley County Public Health Officer Thomas Langer said he had discussed the possibility of drive-up testing for people with COVID symptoms with South Central Kansas Medical Center.
He said SCKMC had an ideal facility for such a process, and that people should watch for news about that service in the coming days.
“I’m very thankful for the hospital wanting to provide that,” he said.
Langer also addressed questions he said he has been peppered with about reopening the local economy.
He said owners and operators of closed businesses should, as soon as possible, script a written plan for how they can safely open to protect employees, customers and the public.
“You’re going to have to have that. It’s going to be a requirement,” he said. “It’s not going be just go about doing something that you think is right.”
That plan will have to be shared, possibly with the public health officer.
“That is going to be basically the contract that I’m going to hold you accountable to,” he said.
Reopening is going to be incremental, he added, with small businesses back on line first and larger gatherings and meeting spaces taking more time.
“Because we don’t want to open the floodgates and get swept away,” he said. “We want to do this the right way.”
There will be increased monitoring, but people should not be afraid of a Big Brother approach, he added.
“We’re not trying to stick our nose in your personal business,” Langer said. “But we watch the population, and we do that by looking at the numbers — the number of tests, the number of people, interviewing those who are ill. That’s called surveillance. It’s not anything to be afraid of.”
Langer said he has heard people say that Cowley County should have more cases here because of the presence of Creekstone Farms’ meat-packing plant. But that business early on worked with the health department to devise a plan to monitor their 1,100 employees and operate safely, Langer said. The plant has not seen virus outbreaks like other meat-processors in the country.
“I feel very confident in saying I don’t think that will happen with them, or with some of our larger employers in the community because they’ve been very proactive,” Langer said.
The third case of COVID-19 in the county, a woman who was otherwise healthy, was not unanticipated, but Langer said he was disappointed to discover it.
At first, it was thought she had chest allergies, Langer said. But she also got a fever and scratchy throat, went for a test and was positive.
Langer said Monday in a press release this case could lead to delays in reopening the local economy as initially hoped if the statewide stay-at-home order expires May 4.
On the video, he added that now is not the time to be complacent about social distancing measures to avoid community spread of the disease.
“I noticed that over the weekend it seemed like everybody in the community was kind like saying, ‘Hey, we win COVID. You lose,” Langer said. “I got news for you. That virus doesn’t care. It will find you eventually.”
There are only three cases in Cowley County, but similar-sized counties in Kansas such as Ford and Seward have hundreds of cases, which illustrates how much the disease can spread.
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, 187 tests had been done in Cowley County with 168 negative, 16 pending and three positive results.
Statewide, 163 new coronavirus cases were reported Tuesday in Kansas for a total of 3,491, according to state public health officials.
Four more fatalities were reported for 124 virus-related deaths overall, eight more hospitalizations for 504 in total.
Numbers continue to grow in Ford (544) and Seward (422) counties out west, where testing is very prevalent. Seward jumped by 106 cases in one day.
Around Cowley County, Butler County is up to 15 cases, although that county’s website puts the number at 14. It also states that 471 negative test results are in, and 11 cases had recovered.
Chautauqua County added a fourth case, according to state figures. Sumner County remained at three and Elk County at zero.
Sedgwick County added 12 cases to 351 cases.
Kay County, Okla., remained steady at 47 cases and six deaths. Osage County remained at 72 cases and eight deaths.
Total cases in Oklahoma on Tuesday reached 3,410, up 130 cases, or 4 percent cases from Sunday.
There were 10 additional deaths for 207 total; there have been 656 hospitalizations, and 93 percent of all cases are described as recovered.