Two of the 117 active coronavirus clusters identified in Kansas are in Cowley County, according to new information posted this week by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

One is a group-living site in Winfield owned by Twin Rivers Development Support with seven positive cases, according to the state.

The other is the previously disclosed outbreak at the Winfield Correctional Facility, where six staff members recently were diagnosed with COVID-19 after the virus spread in the inmate population, according to Kansas Department of Corrections data. As of Thursday, one inmate and six staff members had active cases.

The Twin Rivers cluster, although listed as active by the state, is resolved, local Public Health Officer Thomas Langer said Thursday in a phone interview. 

A person that contracted the virus in the community spread it to a couple of others who worked at the home and one of the clients, Langer said. 

That outbreak occurred several weeks ago, and all the patients have recovered, he said, but it remains on the state’s active cluster list probably because the local health department hasn’t classified it as closed in the database.

“We were on top of that real early real quick,” Langer said. “It was contained. It did not spread.”

In explaining why the Twin Rivers cluster wasn’t disclosed earlier,  Langer said it affected a specialized service with an at risk population. “I protect that kind of information with a lot of zeal,” he said. 

It also was a very small outbreak, he added, localized and contained quickly.

“We were more concerned about it affecting their ability to work more than anything else,” he said. “Gladly that did not occur, and it wasn’t widespread.”

Efforts to reach Twin Rivers CEO Lara McGrew on Thursday were unsuccessful.

Langer said Cowley County has seen outbreaks in families larger than what occurred at Twin Rivers. 

“We’ve had specific addresses where we’ve had double digit cases connected to them, so this one was actually kind of a nonissue,” he said.

Langer took umbrage with the state starting to release outbreak information now, this far into the pandemic. He said it seems to contradict an earlier change in the law that limited ability to contract tract to protect privacy. 

The state does says that no personally identifying information will be released in the cluster data.

Langer said there’s a need to know, but sometimes this kind of data can breed more hysteria than it needs to, he said.

“I’m sitting here scratching my head, because I don’t believe suddenly this data being provided to the local public is going to basically change their behavior in a way that’s going to make them not take risks,” he said. “I think that ship has sailed, if you know what I mean.”

The department of corrections has been releasing numbers at prisons for some time. Langer said the active staff member infections are not all Cowley County residents. 

Those who are local residents show up in the local virus counts, which on Thursday stood at 267 total cases since the pandemic began with 37 active cases, up just one in each category since Tuesday.

Langer added that last week and into this week six combined cases between Cowley College and Southwestern College had been discovered. Health officials can see how they are connected and “it’s been especially important to watch that right now” with public schools in Winfield and Ark City starting back up this week. 

Some good news, Langer said, is that health officials appear to have a handle on all the local cases tied to Elkhorn Valley Packing, which is located in Harper and Sumner Counties. 

That has brought the active numbers in Ark City closer to those in Winfield, he said. A number of local resident who work at the plant contracted the virus.

“A lot them are working through their quarantines and are coming out of them, and they have recovered 100 percent. They’re going back two work and that’s great,” Langer said. “It was the right thing to do to get those facilities shut down. Let the workers stay home and recover before they opened them back up.”

The Elkhorn cluster involved 71 cases, according to the state. The full list of active clusters can be found at www.coronavirus.kdheks.gov/160/COVID-19-in-Kansas.

 

Clusters in Kansas

Meatpacking plants and correctional facilities continue to be the main sites of active COVID-19 clusters in Kansas, with each reporting thousands of cases, according to data released  Wednesday by the state health department.

It was the first time the Kansas Department of Health and environment publicized specific active COVID-19 clusters. The state identified 117 active clusters, involving 5,099 cases, 192 hospitalizations and 63 deaths.

The information was released hours after several large Kansas business groups released a letter to Gov. Laura Kelly asking her not to identify specific clusters, saying it could harm businesses as they try to recover from the pandemic.

“We are unsure what the benefit of this disclosure offers, other than a public shaming of businesses where an outbreak occurs,” Kansas Chamber President and CEO Alan Cobb said in the letter.

The letter was signed by the Chamber, Associated General Contractors of Kansas, Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas Bankers Association, National Federation of Independent Businesses, The Builders Association and Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce. 

State health department director Dr. Lee Norman said the state decided to release specific active cluster cases in response to continuing requests from citizens who want to make informed decisions and to assess their personal risk and reduce the virus spread. 

“We want (businesses) to be successful and have safe environments for people to go,” he said. “Whether it’s working or shopping or eating, we want people to be safe.” 

Seven active clusters were identified at meatpacking plants, with 2,159 cases leading to 76 hospitalizations and 12 deaths. The largest outbreaks were in Dodge City, with 647 cases at a National Beef plant and 594 cases at a Cargill plant there. 

The cases have rippled through Dodge City, where the city hall had 13 active cases and the school district has 27 active cases, according to the state data.

But Ernestor De La Rosa, assistant city manager for Dodge City, said Wednesday the city currently has only two employees with active cases, who are now in quarantine. And a school spokeswoman said the district believes it has eight students and two staff members with current active cases.

Asked whether he knew how the city employees were infected, De La Rosa replied “It is all over the place, I believe. Obviously, we are exposed everywhere in our community.”

Correctional facilities reported seven active clusters with 1,179 cases, six hospitalizations but no deaths. The Sedgwick County Jail in Wichita had 491 of the active cases, with Hutchinson Correctional Center reporting 403 active cases.

The most deaths from active cases — 49 — were recorded at long-term care facilities, where 57 clusters resulted in 623 active cases and 79 hospitalizations.

Both the Kansas State and Kansas football teams were named as active clusters, and 26 active clusters with 425 cases reported at eight universities and colleges, and at seven Kansas State fraternities or sororities.

Kansas reported 47,410 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 495 deaths on Wednesday, an increase of 494 cases and 10 deaths since Monday.

On another controversial front, Kelly said earlier this week she planned to seek renewal of a state COVID-19 emergency declaration, which is set to expire next week. Under a compromise with the Legislature reached in June the mostly Republican State Finance Council must approve such extensions.

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett told members of the council this week that thousands of prisoners might have to be released and charges in violent crimes might be dismissed if the declaration is not extended. 

Bennett, a Republican, said court restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic make it impossible to follow a state law that requires a case be brought to trial no later than 150 days after a suspect is arraigned, The Wichita Eagle reported.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Marla Luckert has allowed local courts to extend the 150-day deadline. If the emergency declaration expires, the courts would continue to have a 150-day extension but it would then also expire, said Lisa Taylor, spokeswoman for the state court system.

Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a Republican, did not respond to requests for comment.

House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat, said he will vote to extend the declaration but he’s unsure how Republicans on the council will vote.

“Early on in this process, it seemed like everybody was working together pretty well to deal with COVID, and the initial executive orders went out easily. But more lately it seems like it’s been a lot tougher and a lot more politics is being played,” Sawyer said.

 

Andy Tsubasa Field in Topeka and Roxana Hegeman in Belle Plaine contributed to this report.

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