GIRARD, Kan. — Though coronavirus restrictions are easing and the economy is beginning to reopen, officials from the county up to the federal level continued to have much to discuss concerning the latest developments in the ongoing crisis during meetings on Friday.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) addressed some concerns that have come up about the government's response to the coronavirus crisis and its economic impact during a University of Kansas Health System media conference Friday. One topic Moran brought up was the unprecedented unemployment rate that has resulted from the coronavirus lockdown.
“That rate hit 14.7 percent, as announced this morning by the U.S. Department of Labor,” Moran said, adding that more than 20 million people lost their jobs in April. He pointed out that the shutdown in response to the virus had caused “significant consequences to our economy and the well-being of people and their families.”
Steve Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, similarly noted that “certainly unemployment and healthcare get tangled up pretty fast.”
In response to a question from a reporter, Stites also discussed some of the confusion that can arise from attempting to interpret the latest statistics about the spread of the virus without putting them into context.
“Not only are we testing more, we're testing differently, and those two things make early results — you know, results from two or three or four or six weeks ago — harder to interpret relative to things today,” Stites said.
Reports of a huge “spike” in coronavirus cases can be misleading, he noted, because of how much more widespread testing has become, among other factors.
“You almost have to look at a day's test results as a standalone day, and the temptation is to constantly compare it to, you know, a month ago,” Stites said, “and it's hard to know because our testing strategies were so different a month ago, so the results are difficult to compare.”
Crawford County officials, too, discussed this issue at the Friday county commission meeting in Girard.
“They're encouraging people to get tested — anybody that has two of the symptoms, and they don't have to have a fever — so they're doing more testing,” County Health Officer Rebecca Adamson said, “and then the other thing to remember is people who are going in for elective surgeries and things, now pretty much all the hospitals are testing everyone before they come in for any surgeries, so that's going to pick up more.”
Adamson said testing has expanded particularly in northwestern Kansas.
“So they may just be finding more,” Adamson said. “Deaths have not really rose a lot, so that's kind of how they gauge it, and it's not overwhelming the healthcare system yet, so just because the cases go up doesn't necessarily mean we won't be able to move forward.”
In terms of moving forward, Commission Chairman Bruce Blair said that if businesses and facilities are soon allowed to reopen that seem like they could be among those posing the highest risk of spreading COVID-19 — such as casinos, which attract visitors from other areas and where guidelines about social distancing and consistent sanitizing of commonly touched surfaces would appear difficult to follow or enforce — then all businesses should be able to open in some capacity and restrictions on gatherings should also be eased.
Under current state guidelines, gatherings of more than 30 people will not be allowed until June 1, while casinos may be able to reopen by May 18.
“I just don't think the situation where you have 30 people gathering is more dangerous than going to a casino,” Blair said. “And I'm not saying anything bad about the casino, I'm just saying it would be a shame to not have a wedding, but you can go to the casino.”