COVID-19 numbers down, but repeal of Hays mask mandate unlikely

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News
Visualization of COVID-19

While cases of COVID-19 in Ellis County are steadily on the decline, it’s unlikely they’ll dip so low anytime soon that Hays will lift its city ordinance requiring a face mask in public.

That’s according to Ellis County health administrator Jason Kennedy, who acknowledged that the Hays City Commission in October agreed to repeal the mask requirement if new cases drop to five or less for 14 consecutive days.

“I don’t realistically see us meeting that metric anytime soon, but it is something that people are watching,” said Kennedy, speaking Monday evening at the regular meeting of the Ellis County Commission.

Ellis County hasn’t taken action to require masks, nor did the county commissioners opt out of Gov. Laura Kelly’s statewide mask mandate that went into effect Nov. 25. The city of Hays mask ordinance was enacted in July and renewed in October. 

“We do report the numbers that they use, and that’s five cases or less per day for 14 days,” Kennedy said during the report to the county commissioners on COVID-19 cases and vaccinations. “Currently as of today, we’ve only had two days in probably the last four months that have had five cases or less consecutively.”

As of Monday, Ellis County had 14 new cases, according to the health department. The county had a seven-day average of six new cases per day. There are currently 50 active cases and three hospitalizations. So far, 3,427 people have had COVID-19 and recovered. There were 58 deaths in 2020, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Registration underway

So far, about 6,000 people have signed up for the county's vaccination clinic, which is now in its second week at the former Gordmans in the Big Creek Crossing mall.

The clinic started for the public in earnest on Jan. 26 with 300 doses from the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, funneled through the KDHE.

This week, Ellis County is slated for 400 doses, administered by appointment on Tuesday and Wednesday, and also Thursday if any remain.

“We encourage people to be patient,” Kennedy told the commissioners. The clinic is operated with volunteers and medical professionals from the health department, HaysMed hospital, First Care Clinic, Hess Clinic, Knoll Clinic and Ellis County Emergency Services.

“We are giving all the vaccine every week that we receive,” Kennedy said. “We get the vaccine on Monday or Tuesday. It will all be gone by Wednesday or Thursday. We are not saving any on the shelves, and we unfortunately can’t request more. The CDC allocates it to the state. The states allocate it to the local level. We get a shipment on Monday or Tuesday. We give out what we get.”

Shots now are reserved for those in the state's Phase 2 category. Priority goes to those who can answer yes to two of three criteria: age 65 or older, in a critical infrastructure job or living in a group home.

Even so, Kennedy encouraged everyone to sign up for appointments on the health department’s website, by calling the health department or through the Hays Public Library.

“Even if you’re like, ‘I’m so far down the list it’s gonna be never,’ sign up,” Kennedy said. “Get on the list. We don’t know how much vaccine we’re going to get. So go ahead and get signed up on there.”

No bad reactions

EMS and nurses are on site at the clinic, where everyone who gets a shot must wait in observation afterward for 15 minutes. Anyone with a history of reactions to vaccines, or having a reaction, may have to wait for 30 minutes, Kennedy said.

“Have you had any reports of adverse effects to the vaccine?” asked commission chairman Butch Schlyer.

While nationally there have been some scattered reports of the potentially life-threatening allergic reaction anaphylaxis, that hasn't been the case in Ellis County, Kennedy said.

“The vast majority of people just report localized swelling, arm pain, usually the following day,” he said. “If they have reactions, it’s usually consistent with flu-like symptoms. We have had some people with some mild gastrointestinal stuff, or just general weakness, kind of not feeling well. Most of that is due to your immune system actually responding and building those antibodies. As far as anaphylaxis reactions, we’re not having any.”

Kennedy did ask those who get an appointment to make sure they will be in town and can return in 24 days for the second dose.

“If you cannot make it in for your second vaccination,” he said, “please call us ahead of time so we can reschedule your first vaccination. There’s not a ton of leniency. We want to get everybody their first vaccine who can also receive their second.”

Reach out for help

Schlyer mentioned that he did hear a complaint from one citizen.

“I did receive an email from a gentleman that took his mother-in-law out to get a vaccination and he had a complaint because he said snow wasn’t removed very good and people were really lined up and it was cold outside,” Schlyer said. “He didn’t want to subject his mother-in-law to the cold, so they left. Last I heard he was trying to reschedule that with you. Are those situations being addressed?”

Kennedy said he encourages people not to leave and asked that people show up no more than 15 minutes prior to their appointment.

“Every vaccine is scheduled throughout the day,” Kennedy said. “We’re not going to give your dose away early. If you’re scheduled for later on in the day, please show up.”

He added that there’s help on site for anyone who needs it.

“We’ve done everything we can out there to make it accessible, to make it friendly for everybody with wheelchairs on site,” he said. “And if there’s people that need assistance, and someone can come in, or they can call the office, they’ll make contact with us, we can go out and we’ll do everything we can to help get people in and out of the building safely.”

He said that last week the process at the clinic went smoothly, crediting all the volunteers and partnership with the town’s medical community.

“You did a great job,” said County Commissioner Dean Haselhorst.

“Absolutely,” Schlyer agreed.

“You guys did a good job, I’m proud of that,” said Neil Younger, the newest member of the commission after starting his term in January.