Hays Med officially confirmed Friday that the regional hospital is treating a COVID-19 patient, while the Ellis County Health Department clarified later that the person is not a resident of Ellis County.
The official announcement came as rumors had swirled for at least a week of a coronavirus case in Ellis County.
The hospital statement disclosed no other information about the patient, citing strict federal health care privacy laws.
Speculation on Facebook, however, had posters claiming they knew the person was everything from a Utah truck driver who had been passing through, to a person transferred from Claflin, Osborne County, Barton County or Pawnee County, where COVID-19 cases officially have been reported.
Just exactly where the HaysMed patient originated is not being reported, but a KU Med spokesperson did indicate the person was a transfer.
“We cannot comment on specific patients per HIPAA,” said Jill Chadwick, a spokeswoman for The University of Kansas Health System, in an email. “However, when it comes to patient care, whether it’s COVID-19 or a stroke or car accident, patients are transferred for many reasons including but not limited to personal choice or a higher level of care.”
Some posters questioned why the patient was brought to HaysMed.
HaysMed’s statement addressed that.
“HaysMed is a regional referral hospital for the area, taking care of patients from all over western Kansas, including COVID-19 patients also,” said the statement. “We are equipped and ready.”
Facebook posters were in conflict about whether the patient should be counted as an Ellis County statistic or not.
If counted, it would be the first case in the county. But Ellis County, as of 5 p.m. Saturday, still had no confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Ellis County Health Department.
KDHE, in its daily reporting of COVID-19 cases in the state, reports that a county has a case when the person testing positive is a resident of that county.
“There are no confirmed cases of Ellis County residents with COVID-19,” said Jason Kennedy, director of the Ellis County Health Department.
In Kennedy’s news release Friday, which followed the one from HaysMed, he said when KDHE gets a positive test result, the agency notifies the county health department where the patient resides. The health department in the patient’s county of residence then starts contact tracing to identify and notify any close contacts.
“We try to figure out the origin of where they got it,” Kennedy said. “The reason we look is so we can trace their steps, to isolate and quarantine.”
When the case is one resulting from travel, such as a cruise, the source of the transmission and the contacts are more readily identified, he said.
“So we have a more reasonable chance of containing it,” said Kennedy.
If the person hasn’t traveled and the case can’t be tied to any readily identifiable exposure to the virus, then it’s more difficult to identify where the person picked up the virus.
“Then at that point you assume there’s community transmission,” Kennedy said. “They got it in the community … that’s harder because you can’t pinpoint that direct origin.”
Even without the known origin, however, the health department will determine all the close contacts the person has had, he said.
“We’re now going back 48 hours to onset of symptoms, so we can really help mitigate it,” Kennedy said. “We would notify the public the same, but it changes the level of contact tracing.”
For that reason, good personal hygiene and social distancing by all residents is important, Kennedy stressed.
“They need to be taking these steps at all times, regardless,” he said, ”to protect themselves and others.”
HaysMed’s release explained the precautions being taken with the patient, including upon arrival at the hospital.
“The patient is in a specially equipped area that is designed to prevent the spread of the virus to other patients, visitors, staff and physicians,” said the release.
It went on to say, “Upon arrival, caregivers wearing protective personal gear coordinated the patient’s entry into the hospital. No other patients, visitors or caregivers were exposed. HaysMed followed CDC and KDHE guidelines to protect caregivers, patients and visitors from exposure.”
The hospital’s statement went on to say that the facility is safe for workers.
“Employees are safe to come to work. While some patient appointments have been postponed or delayed, patients who have appointments for conditions which they must be present and seen by a provider are safe to keep their medical and outpatient appointments.”
Patients were also invited to contact their physician or clinic for a telehealth visit.