Riley County health and safety officials are eyeing a path toward re-opening shut-down businesses, though report positive COVID-19 tests in the county are still growing.
Area health and safety officials updated the community on the latest coronavirus information via Zoom on Facebook live Wednesday. Health Department Director Julie Gibbs said three new positive tests brings the county to a total of 34, though 13 of those are reported to have recovered. Eleven test are pending and 224 tests have come back negative. The newest positive tests are regarding three men ages 21, 39 and 62 — no additional details were provided about the individuals, though Gibbs says contact tracing is underway.
“Please understand that there will be necessary restrictions that will be put in place if we happen to open up certain businesses in the future,” Gibbs says.
The Manhattan City Commission Tuesday discussed the formation of a recovery task force that would include local business leaders, health and safety officials, as well as representatives of local colleges and Kansas State, USD 383 and local governments. Mayor Usha Reddi said that night that the process would be contingent on expanded testing and tracing capabilities as well as 14 days of diminishing case numbers.
Gibbs says the emergency operations center — or EOC — includes many of these groups, consisting of health, safety and government officials. Operating as a unified command amid the pandemic, Gibbs says the EOC will make their decision on re-opening area businesses pending Gov. Laura Kelly rescinding her orders and depending on data on the conditions in the county at the time.
Gibbs and others attribute the relatively low numbers of cases in part to successful physical distancing. Assistant RCPD Director Kurt Moldrup says a measured approach will be necessary going forward, encouraging residents to continue abiding by local, state and federal health guidelines.
“Because we’ve done well, it appears we have a good chance of being able to start the opening process sooner than what we anticipated a month ago when we started this,” Moldrup says.
Gibbs, though, notes that if numbers begin to spike following re-opening that the county could scale back again.
Officials say they continue to analyze the situation for newly developed clusters of cases in the county, but say none have been identified at this time.
Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Andrew Adams says clusters are groups of infections linked by time, location or contact with other cases, but the threshold for what qualifies as a cluster is hard to work out for such a novel virus.
“I would struggle saying a household to be a cluster,” says Adams. “Looking more along the lines of a business or a neighborhood or some set area that might involve more people than just a household.”
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has reported 39 clusters in the state with some linked to meat packing plants, hospitals and rehab centers and others to religious gatherings.
The county is also looking to expand testing, thanks to newly available testing supplies lessened testing qualifications by the state.
“You need to have at least two of a list of symptoms,” says Adams. “Anything from headache and fever to diarrhea — there’s a whole long list of symptoms that based on a known exposure or an unknown exposure or travel that you might qualify for further evaluation or testing.”
Questions about COVID-19 can be directed to RileyCountyCOVID19@gmail.com. The screening line can also be reached from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at (785) 323-6400. Resources on coping with mental distress during this time can be found at Pawnee.org.