The huge spike in local coronavirus infections is creating more patients for local hospitals but also infecting their staffs.
Trevor Langer, director of marketing for South Central Kansas Medical Center, said Wednesday that the hospital has seen a definite uptick in the number of positive cases in the community.
“For the past couple of weeks it seems they’re just coming out of the woodwork,” he said.
Langer said healthcare workers are now becoming ill and testing positive, which puts a strain on remaining staff.
“It has become an unfortunate reality for a lot of places,” he said. “Not just the clinics, not just the hospital, it’s kind of all around us in the community.”
Langer said the staff at the medical center and its clinics are being pushed to the limit. Several employees have tested positive and are currently on a 10-day quarantine. He did not have a specific number immediately available.
“It’s one of those things where we’re having to be a little bit strategic about how we place people,” he said.
Hospital admissions, however, were not out of the ordinary, he said. Most people are outpatients, he said, although the hospital is taking steps to prepare for the possibly of a large increase in admissions.
“We’re not necessarily blown out of the water, and we’re not at the max capacity that you are reading about right now around the country,” he said.
Langer speculated that the recent spike in cases could be attributed to a increased level of public complacency. People seemed to let their guard down in October and became more open about going out in public.
“I know there were a lot of folks out partying on Halloween,” he said. “Now we’re seeing the results of that.”
The number of infections in Cowley County has soared in recent day, jumping nearly 42 percent from Nov. 2 to Wednesday, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The county added 253 cases during that time to reach 861 since the pandemic began.
The number of active cases is unknown. The City-Cowley County Health Department has stopped updating local numbers on its website. Efforts to reach Public Health Officer Thomas Langer so far this week have been unsuccessful. There have been at least 12 virus-related deaths in the county after the Arkansas City Presbyterian Manor announced this week that two residents who had tested positive had died.
Duane Oestmann, a SCKMC trustee and a city commissioner, said he was notified that future trustee meetings will be conducted remotely.
He plans to recommend that city commission meetings take the same action.
“We need to go back to Zoom meetings,” he said. “If they don’t want to do Zoom, then it’s full mask. I want it required.”
Oestmann said that he found out last week that he had been exposed to the virus through contact with his granddaughter. He had been out in the community and could have exposed others before he found out.
“I was wearing my mask 90 percent of the time,” he said. “But with that 10 percent, I could have exposed others.”
Oestmann said he and his wife have canceled their Thanksgiving dinner plans to avoid exposing other family members.
“People have got to be responsible, take responsibility for themselves, for others and family,” he said. “It’s out there, people have been lax and as a commission we’ve got to do something.”
William Newton Hospital has seen an increase in hospital staff infected with the virus this week, a spokesperson said, but patient care is not suffering.
“We have adequate staffing to care for all of our patients in all departments,” Director of Marketing Sarah Johnson said Thursday.
CEO Ben Quinton has been stressing that fact, she said.
Johnson declined to state exactly how many staff members were infected.
Staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus and were sent home to quarantine, she said, but that number has not interfered with running the hospital.
Employees whose jobs do not require they be on site have been given the option of working from home.
“Of course that is not possible for all staff,” she said.
She also admitted that things can change at any time — that’s the nature of the pandemic.
The hospital already had people working from home for about six weeks in the spring so they knew that was an option.
“We’re trying to minimize the number of staff who come down with the virus,” she said.
Johnson said not all staff members are being tested for the virus, only those showing symptoms. That is the protocol being followed by the hospital as well as the county health department, she said. Lack of adequate testing equipment prevents universal testing, she said.
“We’re doing everything to stay safe,” she said. That includes all the masking, social distancing and crowd avoidance used from the beginning of the pandemic, as well as working from home. In the hospital, visitors have been limited to one visitor per patient per day.
The emergency room is so busy with new coronavirus cases that a no visitors policy has gone into effect, Johnson said.
The hospital will get two new kiosks for the entrances in the next couple of weeks. Johnson said people will get their temperatures taken and answer the standard COVID questions before even meeting any staff.
“If there’s a flag, staff will be right there,” she said. Otherwise the person entering the hospital can just go on to the next station.
Community Health Center
David Brazil, CEO of the Community Health Center in Cowley County, said Thursday that not staff at the low-cost clinic in Winfield are ill or off work due to exposure.
Like Johnson, Brazil is well aware that could change. “We have had staff isolate over the past six months,” he said.
He called the continued good record of the health center a matter of “good infection control and dumb luck.”
Like other health care facilities, the health center instituted masking and other infection control policies in late March/early April. That includes locking the front door and letting people in individually after they’ve called and identified themselves.
One physical change to improve the safety of the building is the retrofit of an ultraviolet disinfectant unit on the air system. All the air inside the clinic is being disinfected, Brazil said.
Another change that will be coming soon is a HEPA filtration system to be installed on the clinic’s HVAC unit. The HEPA unit takes out the suspended items from the air, increasing its overall cleanliness, Brazil said.