Monday, the Geary County Commission received an update on the local COVID-19 situation.
After going a long stretch of time with no diagnosed cases of the illness in the county, over the weekend two cases were discovered, with another cropping up Monday afternoon.
Geary County Health Department Director Tammy Von Busch told the commission that there were at least two churches still choosing to meet in person in Geary County.
There is a stay at home order in place in Geary County and across the state, but that has not stopped some from gathering at brick and mortar churches for traditional services.
Many churches have opted to hold virtual and even outdoor services.
She read to the commissioners from guidance sent out from the state, which says churches should use “telework capabilities to avoid meeting in person and any essential functions being performed on sight or in person must, to the extent possible, without significant disruption to essential function, follow appropriate safety protocol.”
Von Busch felt this was unclear.
“To me, do we go out and tell them, if they have telework or tele-capabilities, that they can no longer meet in church?” she asked. “It doesn’t specifically say that’s the requirement … In my opinion, it doesn’t help us a lot.”
The state, she said, had instructed churches in Kansas to use online, radio and other capabilities to reach members. Churches that are not able to use those capabilities are expected to follow social distancing and safety guidelines.
“I don’t know whether we can come down harder on them or just leave it go,” Von Busch said. “I don’t feel like this gives us any more to work with than we had previously.”
Chair of the commission Keith Ascher said he felt it was “slippery slope” and a “delicate situation.”
“I don’t know as I’d push that button yet,” he said.
Ascher said later that he believed Von Busch had the most authority than the county commission to enforce the stay at home order and that it was not up to the county to bring down the hammer.
“In a pandemic, we’re pretty much out of the picture,” he said. “It’s up to her. We take her direction.”
Ascher did, however, encourage people to do their part to keep people safe during the crisis by following social distancing guidelines.
“I think the vast majority of the public is doing their part,” he said. “But there’s some that still don’t buy into it, I guess.”
The health department continues to work with key community stakeholders, including the Geary County Sheriff’s Office, local fire departments, and the Junction City Police Department.
Across Kansas as a whole, there was an increase of 127 cases of COVID-19 over the weekend and there were five new deaths from the disease. This brings the death toll to 25 in the state so far.
In Geary County, 62 COVID-19 tests have been conducted, with 55 negative and five tests pending as of Monday morning, according to Von Busch.
Ascher commented that all signs pointed to this crisis not ending any time soon.
“I’m just going off of what the federal government’s saying, what the state’s saying, what (the health department is” saying,” he said. “I think that is probably the most frustrating thing with this — it’s the unknown. But what I can say is that all the indicators point that the more people that abide by the stay at home, distancing, and hygiene the sooner we’re going to get through this. I mean, it sounds simple, but that’s kind of the way it is — unless they come up with a vaccine — that’s our only defense.”
Rural Fire Chief Garry Berges told the commission the county had received 111 boxes of personal protective equipment from the state Saturday, Ascher said.
The equipment included items such as surgical gowns, masks, footwear, and other items needed by healthcare providers.
“They’re processing those and inventorying those,” Ascher said. “Starting (today) I think they’ll start divvying those out to the hospital and whoever needs them — first responders.”
On the Geary County website at www.gearycounty.org, starting immediately, there will a COVID-19 update on the front page.
There is also a page dedicated to news and resources that has been launched at www.gearycounty.org/1418/Novel-Coronavirus-COVID-19 on the county’s website.
Not COVID-19 Related
In addition to hearing about COVID-19, Berges told commissioners there had been 33 fire calls in the county so far in 2020 as opposed to this time last year, when there had been 27, Ascher said. There were 20 calls in March.
In light of everything going on right now, Ascher said, the landfill is scheduled to be opened free of charge for spring cleaning.
“When it warms up, people are going to want to get outside and do something,” Ascher said.
This ‘something’ might as well be yard work.
So on two Saturdays, April 18 and May 16, the landfill will be open from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. for people to bring by yard waste for no charge. Only yard waste will be accepted.