Osage County declares public health emergency

Osage County Sheriff’s deputies wait inside the entrance of the county courthouse to check the medical conditions of all visitors and employees.

LYNDON, Kan. – With conditions seemingly changing by the minute, Osage County has joined other counties across Kansas in declaring a public health emergency in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. At a special meeting called March 17, 2020, Osage County commissioners also took action to limit access to the courthouse and conduct a health screening of all who enter, including employees.

Also Tuesday, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly announced the state’s efforts against the virus will include the closure of the state’s school buildings for the remainder of the school year and ordered that group gatherings across the state be limited to no more than 50 people in a single area.

Osage County’s emergency declaration followed the state’s declaration of March 12, and once enacted it authorizes the activation of the county’s local emergency response plan.

At Tuesday’s special commission meeting, with most of the county department heads in attendance, Osage County Health Department Director Jackie Patterson, who is also the county’s health officer, outlined then current statistics on coronavirus cases in the U.S. By March 18 the total had risen to 7,038 total cases in the U.S. with 97 deaths; and in Kansas, 21 positive test results and one death.

Patterson reported Tuesday there was one person under investigation from Osage County.

“This is a person who has been identified as someone who qualifies to be tested,” Patterson told the commissioners. “As of this morning, we still don’t have the results back.”

She explained that although testing for the virus was now underway in the U.S., it could take several days to get results back.

Patterson said the Osage County resident and her family are under a 14-day quarantine. She said the reason the person was tested was because they had traveled.

“We don’t have any local spread yet,” Patterson said, noting no known positive cases in Osage County at that time.

Commissioners considered the feasibility of closing the courthouse temporarily or limiting access, and all nodded in agreement with Patterson that the courthouse should stay open for public business as long as it was possible.

“We still have to run our county and we still have people that need services, and we still have people that need things,” Patterson said.

After discussion about how to limit access, commissioners decided entry to the courthouse would only be through the west entrance and it would be monitored by a sheriff’s deputy.

“They would possibly do a quick health screen like take your temperature and just make sure we don’t have somebody coming in that’s noticeably sick,” Patterson said. “Might ask them a couple of questions, have you been to – have a specific list of places that might be hot beds right now.”

Osage County Commissioner Ken Kuykendall asked Sheriff Laurie Dunn if she had officers available to man the courthouse door.

“I will,” Dunn said. “We will get it done, if that’s what we’re going to do.”

“I thought it was a good idea last week,” Dunn said. “I shut my buildings down last week, just for those purposes, the number of people coming into my buildings, I have small lobbies.”

Buildings under Dunn’s responsibility include the jail and sheriff’s office. She later told Osage County News that the front door of the sheriff’s office is now locked and any visitors will need to ring a doorbell and wait for an officer to let them in.

“There comes a point when I have to protect my employees,” Dunn said.

Regarding the courthouse screening, Dunn said, “Everybody is going to have to go through it. Every time you go smoke, you’re going to have to take the long trip, and I know that upsets courthouse employees.”

By Tuesday afternoon, commissioners had implemented the screening process for courthouse visitors, with two deputies stationed a few feet inside the west courthouse door armed with an oral and forehead thermometer and a jug of hand sanitizer.

Kuykendall also questioned Patterson about guidelines for local restaurants and churches.

Patterson said she was recommending everyone follow the national guideline of congregating in groups of less than 10 people.

Concerning restaurants, “Right now we’re not going to close them down,” Patterson said. “Most of our restaurants are pretty small. Most of times they don’t have 10 people except during rush hour. Most times they don’t have 10 people within close proximity with each other.

“As long as we can prevent any of that (groups of more than 10), I will let them monitor themselves,” she said.

“Right now we don’t have a positive case, as soon as we do that, we will reevaluate,” Patterson said.

She offered the same recommendation for churches – meet in groups less than 10 people only.

Patterson said she expected her office to be hectic soon and asked if Osage County Clerk Rhonda Beets could assist her as a public information officer during the health emergency. Beets agreed and the two noted they would be setting up a Facebook page to provide pandemic information that pertains to Osage County.

Later Tuesday, Beets issued a press release that outlined the public health emergency and said the county health department would be monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak and is working with Kansas Department of Health and Environment and other Osage County agencies to manage the situation.

The release also offered these recommendations to all Osage County residents:

  • All people over the age of 60 and those with underlying health concerns should take all precautions to self-protect. Consider avoiding social gatherings. If you have a fever, cough, shortness of breath or other medical issues that can be addressed over the phone, contact your healthcare provider before going to the office or emergency room.
  • Inside events that have over 10 attendees should be cancelled.

Take these common steps to avoid contracting COVID-19, Influenza A and B, and the seasonal cold.

  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your face and cover your face when coughing or sneezing.
  • Refrain from personal contact with other people.
  • Socially distance yourself from large gatherings of people.
  • Utilize disinfectant products on common surfaces if you have to be out (such as a grocery cart).
  • Utilize hand sanitizers when hand washing is unavailable.

Wednesday morning, county commissioners agreed to hold special meetings at 8:30 a.m. daily Monday to Saturday, until further notice.

Osage County’s COVID-19 Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Osage-County-Covid-19-110249017270887/
KDHE COVID-19 information:
https://govstatus.egov.com/coronavirus
CDC COVID-19 information
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/

Contact us: Osage County News | P.O. Box 62, Lyndon, KS 66451 | [email protected] | 785-828-4994 | Powered by Osage County, Kansas