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As of Saturday, there are now eight identified cases of COVID-19 in Kansas. The situation continues to evolve. In order to address concerns about the chances of an outbreak in Geary County, Friday morning, the Geary County Health Department hosted a press conference where Emergency Management Director Garry Berges and Health Department Deputy Director Charles Martinez answered questions.

According to Berges, there have been no confirmed coronavirus cases in the county.

However, precautions are being discussed between area healthcare providers.

Geary Community Hospital has limited itself to two entrances, as well as implementing other restrictions which will be listed in full later in this article.

At this time, gatherings and events have not had restrictions placed on them, but the option is not off the table.

Weekly meetings will continue between local healthcare providers and stakeholders.

To keep safe, the health department asks people to follow common sense hygiene rules.

“Make sure you wash your hands,” Martinez said. “That can’t be overstated.”

He also recommended social isolation.

“Social isolation is the only way that we can slow this virus down,’ he said.

Berges advised caution while avoiding panic. Panic buying, he said, is entirely unnecessary.

“Some people are starting to panic,” he said. “There’s no reason to panic. As long as they — like Charles said — do the hand washing, social isolation, try to limit where they’re at, where they go, what they touch. Just be cognizant of where you’re at and what you’re doing and we should be pretty well fine. We’re going to have probably some cases here, but (if) people take their time and exercise the precautions that we recommend, they should be good.”

Most people who contract coronavirus experience mild, flulike symptoms.

However, in severe cases, the disease can require hospitalization. It can be debilitating and even deadly. It is especially deadly to older individuals and people who already have health problems.

The disease is highly infectious and could swamp local healthcare facilities if a serious outbreak occurs in the Junction City area.

“The more people that get infected quickly, it’s going to overburden our hospital and our entire health system,” Martinez said. “So what we want to do is keep people separate and then — we’re still going to have infections, but it’s going to be over a longer period of time. This gives the health system time to react and treat each individual. You start running into the huge problems when the health system is overburdened.”

He warns against being blasé about coronavirus and not to underplay its risks to the population.

“People are talking about how the flu’s worse because more people die from that,” he said. “More people have died from flu, but this one has the potential to be way worse. Its mortality rate, that we’ve seen, is higher. Its infection rate is higher and we don’t have anything to go against it. I don’t want to panic anyone — don’t fight some lady for toilet paper in Walmart … But don’t panic. This can be controlled if everyone does their part. If you see someone coughing and not covering their mouth, now’s not the time to be polite … If you’re sick, don’t go out in public. It’s simple things we can do to slow this down and give our health system the opportunity to treat our patients.”

People who feel as though they have the flu are asked to call GCH, the health department or their primary care provider for more information on what to do. If it is determined that a person needs to be tested for coronavirus, a test can be administered.

“If you think you have it, don’t go directly in without calling ahead,” Martinez said.

Berges cautioned against calling for an ambulance if someone suspects they may have coronavirus.

“If they transport you and it looks like you might have a case of the virus, those ambulance personnel are quarantined,” he said.

The ambulance will also be out of service. The Junction City Fire Department only has four ambulances, so it’s vital, Berges feels, to not take any of them out of commission.

Tests can be run for coronavirus at GCH or at Konza Community Health Center. Two tests, according to Martinez, have been conducted in the county so far. The results on these tests have not come back from the lab yet.

People who test positive for the virus should self-quarantine for 14 days.

City suspends online and phone transaction fees

Effective immediately, it was announced Friday, the City of Junction City will absorb the transaction fee for both online/website and pay by phone payments for utilities. This is an effort to allow flexibility of payment with the recent concerns of the coronavirus. Fees for online and phone payment of bills will be absorbed until March 31. A credit will be placed on the customer’s bill for the amount of the transaction fee. Bills still have to be paid. Utility billing due dates will not change and past due accounts will still be shut off in the event of nonpayment. To make a payment by phone, please call 1-888-730-7263. This service is available 24 hours a day. People may also make payments online, via the drop box outside City Hall, in person at City Hall, or by calling 785-238-3103.

GCH and Konza

GCH has four isolation rooms at its disposal and a license for 45 beds. GCH has four ventilators.

According to GCH Interim CEO Don Smithburg, at this time GCH is staffing about 20 beds. Inpatient volume, he said, tends to hover around 15 or fewer at any given time, including OB. Its critical care capacity includes a four-bed ICU unit.

“But when you’re dealing with the crisis of a surge (of coronavirus), sometimes you find ways to stretch that capacity,” Smithburg said.

He was more concerned about staffing during a severe outbreak.

“It’s the staffing that might be a challenge,” Smithburg said, if a serious outbreak were to take place locally. “If there is a surge — a sustained surge — there’s a chance that means some of our staff gets sick.”

If GCH staff members who are treating coronavirus patients become sick with the virus themselves, he said, that could impact the hospital’s ability to treat patients.

“It’s just hard to know what that might look like,” Smithburg said of a surge of local cases of coronavirus. “And so I just don’t know. We’re doing everything we can to be prepared.”

That’s a worst-case scenario, however, and there’s no way to know if that will come to be — if there will be a serious outbreak in the area or not.

At this time, it’s impossible to predict if the local situation will ever be that serious.

GCH has implemented restrictions to protect patients and employees alike.

GCH, he said, is bringing on part-time and contract personnel to help as restrictions ramp up and has started working with Konza Prairie Community Health Center.

“Since we’re the two major providers in the area, we’re having a single response plan, working together,” Smithburg said of Konza.

The two providers, who combined serve thousands of patients throughout the area, will coordinate response efforts against COVID-19.

GCH is adhering to guidelines laid out for testing and treating the public by the state and federal governments. Effective Monday, the following measures will be instituted until the outbreak has ceased:

GCH will restrict access to the hospital for patients, visitors, employees, and clinical personnel. Only the Emergency Room doors will be available.

There will be a formal check-in and check-out process for everyone utilizing the Emergency Room door, including the use of visitor badges. If a patient or visitor does not have a badge, they will be escorted out of the buildings immediately. 3. Patients are limited to one companion. No exceptions will be made at this time.

Loitering, social visits, and public access to the cafeteria will not be allowed at this time.

Every non-staff person must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms upon entering the hospital without exceptions.

All vendors and contractors must access through the same point of entrance/exit in the Emergency Room, unless other plans have been approved by authorized GCH personnel.

Security personnel will be enhanced during this time in order to protect citizens’ safety and to assist in enforcing these temporary rules. Konza has also operationalized its emergency/crisis plan and will make every effort to support measures implemented by GCH to mitigate the local impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Effective immediately, Konza will implement the following measures until the COVID-19 outbreak ceases:

Konza has also implemented similar restrictions.

Konza will inform patients of newly implemented local measures, providing accurate and timely information to patients and families. Konza patients with signs and symptoms will be instructed not to present at the hospital or other health agency prior to calling their primary care provider.

Konza will coordinate testing of Persons Under Investigation with GCH staff, based on state and federal guidelines.

Every non-staff person must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms upon entering the facility without exception.

Facemasks will be required for patients who are sick.

Staff who are sick will not be allowed to work.

Non-essential staff travel will be reduced.

Non-essential vendor and contractor access will be limited. Currently, both agencies ask those with the following symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath, please call ahead to your provider, wherever you access care, so they can provide instructions of next steps and prepare for your arrival. Local instructions for patients who believe they are potentially infected with COVID-19 will be available to the public shortly. Screening could include drive-through services near the Surgery Center portico at the front, telehealth appointments, and other remote options for accessing health care services during this time, with the intent to limit exposure and transmission of the disease.

The COVID-19 outbreak is a rapidly evolving situation, there is no vaccine at this time.

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. The virus is thought to be spread mainly from person-to-person contact, between people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet).

For safety’s sake, people can wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, people can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

if someone is sick, they should stay home and keep their children at home if they are sick.

People are asked to cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

Please clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

Konza and GCH are not able to distribute masks and other such supplies to the general public because there is an “extreme global shortage” of these items caused by rapidly spreading coronavirus. Clinical providers may be able to provide such supplies, but only in the event it is medically necessary for a patient.

See www.kdheks.gov/coronavirus/#undefined for more info.

Fort Riley

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fort Riley has begun screening soldiers returning from overseas, according to Lt. Col. Terence M. Kelley.

Any personnel who have traveled recently to any location identified by the CDC as a Level 3 Travel Health Notice area will be screened as they enter Fort Riley. Anyone who displays flulike symptoms will receive immediate medical care. At this time, people who have returned from these areas and do not have flulike symptoms are instructed to limit their movements for up to 14 days — the incubation period for coronavirus.

“During this time, Fort Riley leaders are assisting them to ensure they receive meals and necessary services such as laundry,” according to Kelley.

Travel has been restricted by the Department of Defense for service members.

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