By Anne Hassler Heidel
McPHERSON—Sheila Gorman, M.D., chief of staff at McPherson Hospital and family physician, made a plea to the McPherson County Commission to reconsider a face mask mandate on a county level.
As of July 23, there are 123 cases of COVID-19 in McPherson County with 100 recovered and 23 still recovering at home.
“Statewide, the trend is we have a big spike in cases,” Gorman said. “Things are going in the wrong direction.”
Gorman referred the commissioners to a website maintained by Harvard Global Health Institute – globalepidemics.org – for a breakdown of cases per 100K residents by county. Currently, McPherson County is in the orange risk level range, meaning there are more than 10 active cases diagnosed per 100K population over the last seven days. With a population of approximately 30K people, that is adjusted down to three active cases diagnosed in the last seven days for McPherson County.
Adding to Gorman’s concerns is the fact the hospital is struggling with finding personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We’re looking at ways we need to scale back, particularly on mask usage. How do we do that safely? How do we not run out? On some levels of PPE, we’re under two weeks (supply,)” Gorman said.
Long-term care facilities are still in shutdown and residents are unable to see families. Patients are physically declining and emotionally declining, according to Gorman, who called the situation tragic.
With the possibility of schools reopening, Gorman said the best thing for the kids is to get them back in school, but to do it safely.
“From the data that we do have, it looks like kids typically don’t spread from kid to kid as often as they do from adult to kid or adult to adult,” Gorman said, quantifying her statement as a generalization, not a constant. Her concern was higher for the adults working in the schools.
While she said many measures being used by the county – social distancing, hand sanitizer and hand washing – are helping, having a mask mandate at a county level rather than a recommendation is more effective in changing people’s behavior – pointing to businesses such as Dillons and Walmart, which have implemented mask mandates as positive examples.
Mandates at a county level could also serve as a safety measure for all of the workers that commute in from other communities that may have higher infection rates.
Commissioner Tom Kueser questioned Gorman whether other counties that have mask-usage mandates have shown a decrease in infections. Gorman said that at this time with mandates being a fairly new step, she did not have the data on whether infections had dropped but would let the commission know if she found any data on the subject.
Commissioner Ron Loomis asked why large companies on the east side of McPherson had not experienced outbreaks like companies in Finney County. Gorman said the nature of the companies with outbreaks, mostly meatpacking facilities, had workers in tighter quarters and many of the workers lived together and fraternized more outside of work, which contributed to the higher rate of infection.
Commissioner Kueser asked about the reliability and accuracy of testing. Gorman said the tests were about 95 percent accurate in finding specimens with the virus, but had been known to give false negatives.
The commission did not take any action on Gorman’s request but left the door open for possible future action.