The coronavirus is spreading throughout the county in numbers not seen so far, City-Cowley County Health Department Director Tom Langer said Friday afternoon. “We’re seeing multiple cases in the small communities — Atlanta, Burden, Dexter, Udall, Geuda Springs,” Langer said.
Up to this point, most of the cases were in Arkansas City and Winfield with an occasional case in one of the small communities. Now it is everywhere. “It’s out there, and it’s going to keep being out there,” Langer said.
As of Thursday, 6,343 tests have been given in the county; there were 618 confirmed or probable cases, not counting the Winfield Correctional Facility; and about 80 active cases. The case numbers fluctuate, Langer said, but the trend is upward.
Active cases have spiked in recent days, and Langer said he is watching the numbers closely because of the jump. Maybe the numbers won’t continue to climb so fast, he said, but the pandemic is showing “no signs of slowing down.”
Those contracting the disease locally are in the 35 to 60 age range. Those people are the adults, he said, the ones who should have been following the guidelines carefully.
Langer said he is very concerned that the longterm care facilities will be seriously affected by the rise in the number of cases. But he is also concerned by the general spread of the disease to every kind of institution.
He said testing for COVID continues at a high rate. Every day this week the health department has tested about 40 people. One day they tested 52. The line of cars ran from the back of the health department building to Bliss Street.
The change in the weather has caused problems for continuing the coronavirus testing. “I’m concerned about the safety of my staff,” Langer said. Though the weather i good this week, last week they were working in sleet and snow and ice and rain.
Because of that concern, county emergency management will set up their trailer in the testing area next week. “That way we’ll have a climate controlled place for staff,” Langer said. They won’t need to use it every day, but it will be there when needed.
A number of staff members at William Newton Hospital have been reported to have the coronavirus, and that report was confirmed by CEO Ben Quinton. “There’s been no evidence of person-to-person transmission in the hospital,” Quinton said. Everyone who has it acquired it in the community.
The hospital personnel are continuing to follow safety procedures, Quinton said. He also said patient care has not been affected, and the hospital is operating with business as usual.
While local longterm care facilities that have had coronavirus patients are continuing to test all staff at least weekly in accordance with directives from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Quinton said the hospital has no plans to test all the staff, although the hospital has four rapid test machines. He said testing everyone is “not physically possible.”
Quinton said there is even room in the coronavirus units so that WNH could take some patients from Wichita hospitals if the need arises.
Langer said hospital staff with the coronavirus is symptomatic of its widening spread. He said when a health department staff person contracted COVID earlier in the year, he put the department in a kind of lockdown so they could get the problem under control before it spread. He had everyone tested for the coronavirus, and they continue to test staff if the situation calls for it.
With the rise in the number of local cases, Langer worries that the COVID units in both WNH and South Central Kansas Medical Center will become inadequate to fill the need.
As far as health care staff are concerned, Langer said he tells them, “We need you now more than ever. You need to be careful at work and off work.”
All medical workers should be taking extreme caution because “We are at a point that things could get really bad very quickly.”
And with the holidays approaching, things could get worse.