Ellis County’s county government buildings and offices reopened Tuesday for face-to-face business with the public.

The change is in line with Gov. Laura Kelly’s phased-in reopening of the state Monday.

The opening includes the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main St. The Ellis County commissioners on Monday evening left details up to each county department.

"I would just encourage all the employees to assess their own risk and do whatever precautions they deem as necessary," said Ellis County Commission Chairman Butch Schlyer.

"For the department heads, use sound judgment," Schlyer said. "If you think there’s too many people coming in your department, you can hold some at the door, in the lobby, tell them to come back later. Just use sound judgment."

Ellis County has remained at eight confirmed COVID-19 cases since April 17, said Ellis County Health Services Director Jason Kennedy. Those eight are all recovered, as Phase 1 of the governor’s limited reopening gets underway over the next two weeks.

"As we increase testing and relax restrictions, we could see an increase in cases," Kennedy cautioned the commission during their regular meeting Monday. "The way to limit or eliminate this possibility is to continue to use best practices."

He mentioned specifically staying at home as much as possible, washing hands frequently for 20 seconds with hand sanitizer, avoiding touching one’s face, following social distancing or wearing cloth masks, covering coughs and sneezes, and protecting the vulnerable, sick and elderly, as recommended by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Kennedy said he didn’t recommend anything more restrictive than the governor’s plan.

Commissioner Dustin Roths said Kennedy’s comments answered his only question.

"Can we do less than what the governor has said," Roths said, "and that is not an option."

"You can go above and beyond, but you cannot go less than the executive order," Kennedy explained, noting each phase of the four-phase plan lasts for two weeks.

"I have no intention of doing more than what the governor has asked of us," Roths said.

"Same here," said Schlyer.

Schlyer asked Kennedy about vaccinating people.

"Currently they’re talking about providing a vaccine, possibly by the end of the year, which is really fast-tracking," Schlyer said. "Are you going to try to come up with a plan to vaccinate the population of Ellis County?"

"We have not received any direction at this time from KDHE regarding really spooling up a plan for vaccination," Kennedy said. "We will follow the KDHE guidelines and recommendations."

"There could be a large volume of people who get that vaccine if it does arrive," Schlyer said.

Kennedy noted the health department would work in partnership with the region’s medical center, HaysMed.

"They have a huge catchment area. So there’s even more people outside of Ellis County that would likely be coming here for that type of service," Kennedy said. "We’ve got a large regional spread. We would obviously try to focus on taking care of our population first, but we would be remiss if we didn’t think there would be additional people as well."

More tests sought

So far, the health care community in Ellis County has tested 244 people with KDHE-confirmed tests since the start of the virus, Kennedy reported to the commissioners.

"We believe it’s actually more around 300," Kennedy said. "The KDHE had some issues for about two or three weeks, where certain negative test results were not coming through their portal."

That’s an average of 8.71 tests per 1,000 people, he said, noting that is less than the Kansas average of 13.25 per 1,000.

Ellis County has had no hospitalizations and no deaths, he said.

"We have a 3% average positive rate from our testing. That is significantly lower than the state’s average, which is 13.6%," Kennedy said. "So we’re testing the right people. As we’ve said from the start, no one has been turned away for lack of testing. They’ve been turned away because they don’t have symptoms."

Last week, Kennedy said, the health department partnered with Ellis County EMS and cross-trained 17 paramedics, EMTs and health department internal staff to do contact tracing.

The state recommends 15 to 30 contact tracers per 100,000 population.

Ellis County’s number would factor out to a rate of 60 per 100,000, he said.

"So we are double the max recommendation the state has for contact tracing," Kennedy said.

The county has requested 2,800 more test kits to distribute to its community partners. So far, the state has sent 500, but the health department will keep asking for the rest, he said.

As it is now, the county has plenty of testing and hospital capacity, contact tracers, and personal protection equipment, Kennedy said.

"I encourage compliance with this new order, so we can quickly and efficiently move to Phase 2 as we continue our road to the new normal," he said.

Businesses and agencies with questions about the reopening can contact the health department, including emailing staff at covid-19questions@ellisco.net.