GIRARD — A standing-room-only crowd gathered at Girard Medical Center for the Crawford County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) meeting Thursday morning to discuss preparations for the spread of COVID-19, the new coronavirus.
The more than 60 government and health officials and other interested parties who showed up made it “easily the best-attended LEPC meeting” in several years, said Lee Miller, public health coordinator for an eight-county region including Crawford County.
As she has previously noted, Crawford County Health Department Director Rebecca Adamson said the best place to get the most up-to-date information on the coronavirus is the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE).
“Every single day things are changing,” Adamson said. There were still no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Crawford County as of Thursday morning, she said, but three new cases were confirmed in Johnson County within hours of the LEPC meeting.
Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas declared a state of emergency for the city Thursday. Kansas colleges including the University of Kansas, Kansas State University and Emporia State University have extended their spring breaks and are planning to shift classes to online platforms in response to the virus. The NBA suspended its season this week over COVID-19 concerns and actor Tom Hanks has reportedly tested positive for the virus.
Adamson offered some advice at the LEPC meeting on basic precautionary measures people can take.
“It's just kind of like the flu or any virus that's going around,” Adamson said. “You want to wash your hands, cough into your arm, stay healthy, you know, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, eat, you know, a good healthy diet so that you don't get sick in general, and get your flu shot, that's very important too.”
One topic Adamson discussed was face masks and people's questions about who needs them.
“The CDC's recommendations for using a face mask are that you don't need one unless you're sick or you're a health care provider,” she said. “So health care providers do need them, but the general public does not.”
One meeting attendee who said they worked for Crawford County Mental Health asked for advice on where to get masks.
“They're out everywhere,” she said, adding that as soon as they get restocked at stores they are immediately selling out.
Adamson said the health department has a limited supply of masks it can give to people who are sick, but not enough for every member of the general public, and there has been no announcement from KDHE or anyone else of any large supply of masks to be given out.
She also discussed preparations that need to be made by workplaces and schools.
“If you're an employer, one thing that you need to kind of start working on is what are you going to do when people start getting sick, and how are they going to be able to work?” Adamson said. “If they have to be quarantined and they're not sick, can they work from home? I mean, if you work at the hospital, you can't work from home, but there's a lot of places that can work from home, so there's that as well.”
A Frontenac Unified School District employee asked if there should be changes made to district policies such as requiring sick students to stay home until they have not had a fever for 24 hours, or changes to physical education classes.
Adamson said there had not yet been any recommendations to extend the “fever free” time requirement to 48 hours.
“So far there have been no recommendations about cancelling any type of classes like PE or anything like that,” she said. “Now if we would get a case in Crawford County, that might change.”
Pittsburg State University, meanwhile, has activated its critical response management team, which is working on contingency plans and strategies to reduce coronavirus exposure.
Another speaker at the LEPC meeting, Jamie Cravens, infection prevention nurse at Ascension Via Christi in Pittsburg, noted that the healthcare provider recently made changes to its visitors policy at all of its hospitals.
“So although we're in a low risk area right now, some of our hospitals are not,” Cravens said. “We're only going to allow two people in a room, no one under the age of 14.”
The hospital is “also asking anybody that is suspected of having a communicable disease call ahead to us,” Cravens said. “We can always go out to your car, hand you a mask through the window, have you put it on and then come in, and we will direct you to specific rooms that we've designated for isolation. We are trying to expand our isolation (…) This situation is very fluid, we learn something new all the time, so we're trying to expand those isolation rooms in case it's necessary when we do have a case.”