While the Pottawatomie County Commission unanimously voted to opt out of the statewide mask mandate on Monday, the decision did not come without opposition from county health officials.
Leslie Campbell, Pottawatomie County health director, says she was disappointed by the commission’s decision and hopes efforts from other counties will help prevent spread caused by inter-county travel.
“Hopefully having neighboring counties do masks – that everyone will just do it everywhere and be that responsible person and try to not go to social gatherings, stay home, stay home when they’re ill and do what they can to decrease the spread,” Campbell said.
Pat Weixelman, Pottawatomie County commissioner, says that while local residents do travel to other counties, they have been doing so for a while.
“People drive back and forth to Manhattan (and) Topeka, but it isn’t something that they just started doing yesterday,” Weixelman said. “They’ve been doing it for the last eight months. or at least until we opened up enough where we could go back to work. I don’t think anyone is putting themselves in any more danger than they did three months ago.”
Weixelman partially attributed his decision to vote to opt out of the mandate to figures showing Pottawatomie County has a relatively low case rate compared to surrounding areas.
Campbell says that while local residents and schools are doing a good job of following guidelines, hospitals are still struggling with staffing and patient transfers.
“Our hospitals here are seeing effects of COVID,” Campbell said. “They have COVID clients in their hospitals, which I think people didn’t think would happen – small rural hospitals.”
Steve Land, Wamego Health Center administrator, says that local hospitals are also feeling the impact of rising COVID-19 hospitalizations at larger hospitals that typically take in more severe cases from smaller healthcare facilities.
“When those beds begin to fill up, whether that’s with a COVID patient or flu or other patients, then it becomes the responsibility of those other facilities to care for those individuals that sometimes wouldn’t be our typical patient,” Land said.
It was reported on Monday that 98 percent of the medical beds at Stormont Vail Hospital In Topeka were occupied.
As of Monday, Stormont Vail Hospital had 97 COVID-19 related hospitalizations while Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Manhattan had 12.