By Lydia Kautz

Junction City Union

The Geary County Commission met Monday morning at the Geary County 4-H/Senior Center.

They heard an update from Sheriff Dan Jackson on possible cases of COVID-19 at the county detention center.

There were two incidents over the weekend, including one where someone came in who had been to Colorado — where the disease is widespread — recently. The inmate had a fever, but was not coughing. They had recently had contact, by their own admission, with people who had tested positive for COVID-19.

Jackson said protocol was followed immediately and the person was placed in isolation.

The Geary County Health Department had been made aware of this inmate.

The second inmate to raise concerns of COVID-19 at the jail exhibited no symptoms of the illness, Jackson said, but there were nonetheless concerns and the person was isolated.

So far, no positive tests for COVID-19 have been turned in.

So far, according to Jackson, people have done a good job of following guidelines laid out by the health department limiting social interaction and activity.

According to Commissioner Brad Scholz, the if a confirmed or presumptive positive case crops up in the county, the health department statutorily has the authority to enact further restrictions. The county commission does not. Kansas Governor Laura Kelly also has the authority to put restrictions in place, as it did recently putting the state on a stay-at-home order until April 19 that restricts the movements of all but essential personnel and people carrying out essential tasks.

Scholz encouraged people to flatten the curve as much as possible. The turn of phrase has become popular lately and encourages people to stay home to keep area hospitals from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

“A lot of people think of this as,‘well, we only have six deaths as of today in the entire state of Kansas,’” he said. “It goes beyond deaths.”

Scholz compared the coming waves of local infection to what has happened elsewhere in the United States, including Chicago, New York, and what it starting to happen in Johnson County.

“This isn’t just like the common cold,” he said. “This spreads so much faster. And because it spreads faster, what happens if you have an entire hospital that’s infected or an entire station at the fire department get infected, or an entire shift on the sheriff’s department or the police department get infected? Now, there’s people safety that is at risk, not to mention the death toll … Just because our number’s low, doesn’t mean that it’s not that big of a deal. We have started mitigating this sooner than a lot of other people. And that’s why it’s so important.”

Commission Chair Keith Ascher credited that quick response to the county departments.

“It’s our health department director, it’s emergency management,” he said. “All our agencies were on board with doing this early.”

The Geary County Commission is one of several government boards that does not live stream or otherwise broadcast its meetings.

Though social isolation is now required, the Kansas Open Meetings Act is still in place and everyone — from members of the public to the press — is expected to have a right to attend these meetings. Attendance at public meetings is potentially hampered by current guidelines, however.

Commissioners were asked about this at their Monday meeting.

Commissioner Charles Stimatze said the commission was in the process of looking into ways to broadcast their meetings and what it might cost.

“We’re checking,” he said. “I’m just getting into this and trying to get some answers.”

During the meeting, the Geary County Rural Fire Department also requested the transfer of about $25,000 from a building fund in order to purchase a fire truck to replace one it has had since the early 1980s.

Geary County Rural Fire Chief and head of Emergency Management Garry Berges came in to request the purchase of the truck, a 1996 Luverne Commander one pumper. The newer vehicle has a four-door enclosed cab that seats six and has five SCBA — self-contained breathing apparatus — seats, along with a variety of other features.

The county voted unanimously in favor of shifting funds from a property belonging to the rural fire department in order to put a bid on the truck.

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