State to handle COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Ellis County

Margaret Allen

The state of Kansas will handle local distribution of the much anticipated COVID-19 vaccine but hasn’t shared details of its plan with the Ellis County Health Department.

“The state seems like they are going to control all of the distribution. We’ve seen no comprehensive plan in our office of how that’s going to get out, or what that looks like,” said Jason Kennedy, Ellis County Health Services director. “We do know that they have storage lined up at a few designated spots in the state. They’re not disclosing those locations for security reasons.”

The vaccine is expected to arrive before the end of the year, Kennedy said, speaking Monday evening to update the Ellis County commissioners at their regular meeting.

People are asking the health department which residents have priority for the available doses, he said. The state hasn’t asked the local health department for any input on who goes first, he said.

From what he’s heard, priority will be front-line health care workers and the residents of long-term care facilities.

“How that works at the local level, how that gets down to us, we’ve seen none of those plans at this point,” he said.

Despite that, Ellis County health department officials are discussing distribution with area hospitals and medical providers, he said.

“We sort of have a plan of what it looks like. But we don’t know when it’s coming, or what we’re getting, or what the state’s input is going to be,” Kennedy said. “We’re still kind of in a holding pattern on that, but it does look like there will be vaccine by the end of the year.”

Hospital capacity

The number of Ellis County residents in the hospital at Hays Medical Center was lower Monday than in the last couple of weeks, Kennedy said. As of Monday, there were nine residents hospitalized.

“That doesn’t mean that the hospital is doing better,” Kennedy said. “They still have, obviously, hospital issues nationwide with hospital capacity issues. But we’re not at the point in Ellis County where we’re giving any kind of crisis care in the parking lot, or that people are being turned away at the ED because they’re having medical issues.”

The county recorded 77 new COVID-19 cases since Friday, with 28 deaths since counting began in March, according to the health department. The seven-day average of new cases per day is 31, with a 29.8% seven-day average percent of positives.

HaysMed admits patients from all over the area, not just Ellis County. As of Tuesday, the hospital reported it had 28 COVID-19 patients. Since April 1, it has admitted 318 patients with COVID-19.

“Ellis County numbers are a little better, but we’ve got to remember we’ve got a large regional cachement area,” Kennedy said. “So as our numbers improve, other areas numbers are not better.”

Mall testing snags

Free testing in recent weeks in the mall parking lot at Big Creek Crossing on Vine Street is the PCR test, or polymerase chain reaction test, which detects genetic material of the virus using a deep nasal swab.

Funded with federal CARES Act funding to the state of Kansas, the mall testing by a private lab with results sent to North Carolina is part of a statewide push by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Kennedy said.

“Their plan is to test every Kansan before the end of the year,” he said. “It is completely controlled through KDHE funding and by the private lab. Our stake in it is literally the contact tracing.”

While there have been long lines of people for the testing, things haven’t gone smoothly, he indicated.

“I know they’ve had some issues out there with turnaround times, with lost test results,” Kennedy said. “Honestly I empathize with people who went out there and tried to do the right thing. That company wasn’t able to fill the need.”

The Ellis County Health Department has information on its website and Facebook page for those tested in the parking lot to get their test results from the company.

“From the start we’ve told people if you’re sick, go see your doctor. That is still best practice,” Kennedy said. “Our medical community has been phenomenal from the start. We’ve had the highest test rates per capita. We’ve been in the top 10 test rates per capita from the start of this, before the state sent this lab here. So our medical community has done a phenomenal job, their turnaround times are still 24 to 48 hours, they’re not going to lose your test results, and they do a great job. So if you’re sick, go see your doctor. If it’s not COVID, it’s something else.”

Shorter quarantine

Ellis County and Kansas have adopted new shorter quarantine guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for anyone in close contact with a positive case.

The guideline says quarantine can end after 10 days for someone who has no symptoms. A person testing negative, and with no symptoms, can stop after seven days.

“So hopefully we can get people at least to isolate for that seven-to-10 days, or we can encourage them to go in and be tested,” he said. “The best plan is to go in and be tested post-contact. It allows us to maybe diagnose it or find the infections faster, isolate once you become a positive, stay out of the community for your 10 days, and then get back to a COVID-safe life.”