Dire COVID update from McPherson County Health Department

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By Jessie Wagoner

The COVID-19 situation in McPherson County is growing dire. Health experts say the county is in a much worse position now than a year ago, with no signs of improvement in the near future. 

During Monday’s City Commission meeting, Mayor Tom Brown shared an update from Shalei Shea with the McPherson County Health Department. The update, while honest, does not paint a good picture of how the county is currently fairing in regards to COVID-19. 

“During the month of August 2021 we had 307 new cases reported to us. There were 17 new hospitalizations that ranged from the ages of 20 to 90 and the length of stay from two days to twenty-two days and counting,” Shalei Shea, director of the McPherson County Health Department said in a release that was provided to the city commission on Monday. “In comparison, during the month of August 2020, we had 61 new cases reported to us. We are substantially in a much worse place now than we were last year.” 

During the first week of September 2020, the county had no hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients. Five people were hospitalized for COVID-19 during the first week of September this year. Currently, the county has 10 patients hospitalized. This is the highest number of current hospitalizations the county has seen since the beginning of the pandemic. 

As of press time, McPherson County has 144 active cases. Reno County, which is currently hosting the Kansas State Fair, has 637 active cases and reported five deaths in the last week. 

Shea says a number of factors can be contributed to the alarming climb in cases. Those include school starting, employer lack of precaution enforcement, public gatherings, private gatherings and the Delta variant. She also advised that the manufacturers of the PCR rapid testing materials are behind and health providers are struggling to get rapid supplies. As a result, the tests are being sent to outside labs, where the turnaround time can be one to five days. 

“A lot of industry has extensive testing going on,” Mayor Tom Brown said. “Our biggest problem may be how do we keep up with supplies or the testing if somebody has to get tested on a weekly basis. It is a lot of supplies that are needed to do that.” 

Another new barrier the health department is facing is community members failing to work with them. Positive individuals are refusing health department interviews and not participating in contact tracing. Contact tracing allows for appropriate quarantine measures to be followed, which would reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community. 

Shea also reports local health providers are having a difficult time transferring patients who need a higher level of medical care than what can be provided in McPherson County. 

“Many providers report the inability to transfer hospitalized patients to higher levels of care, regardless of why they are hospitalized,” Shea said. “Many providers have full schedules and there just isn’t time in the day to see everyone who needs to be seen.” 

“I talked to a physician in Wichita and they don’t want to accept transfers if at all possible, unless it is extremely critical,” Brown said. “I talked to KU Med and they are monitoring hospitals in the area and most of the hospitals do not want to take transfers unless it is absolutely critical. We are back to where we were a year ago.” 

Brown and Shea both say the transfer situation does not impact only COVID patients. Any patient needing a higher level of care will likely face a difficult time being transferred to another hospital at this time. As Kansas is beginning to feel the pressure of stress on the healthcare system, other states have moved to a much darker place. The state of Idado has now moved to “crisis standards of care,” allowing hospitals to allocate scarce resources, like ICU beds, to those patients most likely to survive. 

Brown said the city is working with emergency management and Wichita State University to see how many supplies they can get. Last year, the city worked with both organizations for testing and supplies. 

Shea says vaccination appointments have slowed tremendously. McPherson County currently has a vaccination rate of 45.1 percent, which is below the national average of 55.4 percent. Vaccination appointments can be made by contacting the McPherson County Health Department or your primary care physician. 

“It is a somber update, but that is where we are,” Shea said. “We are tired, but we are continuing to do what we can.” 

In spite of the bad news, the commission made no steps to implement a mask mandate or ordinance.