COVID spike arrives late, hits hard in rural Kansas County

Topeka, ear. (AP) – As rural northwest Kansas communities suffered some of the largest spikes in the state in the Covid-19 cases, a county sheriff who was among those who tested positive took part in a breathing struggle and landed in a hospital room. An hour from home.

Dr. Lee, head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.  Lee Norman answers reporters' questions during a news conference about the coronavirus epidemic on Wednesday, October, 2020 at the State House in Topeka, Cannes.  Norman says state hospitals will be strained this fall and winter due to the epidemic and the state's annual flu season.  (AP Photo / John Hanna)

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Dr. Lee, head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Lee Norman answers reporters’ questions during a news conference about the coronavirus epidemic on Wednesday, October, 2020 at the State House in Topeka, Cannes. Norman says state hospitals will be strained this fall and winter due to the epidemic and the state’s annual flu season. (AP Photo / John Hanna)

The epidemic arrived late, but it is now straining Gove County, which has had to send patients, including Sheriff Alan Weber, to hospitals in other towns. The county’s 22-bed medical center only has beds dedicated to coronavirus patients and does not have enough staff to keep an eye on the most serious cases around the clock.

Most of its 30-plus residents at the local nursing home tested positive, and six have died since the end of September. In addition to the sheriff, the county’s emergency management director, the hospital’s CEO and more than 50 medical staff have tested positive. Still, some leaders hesitate in bad will, questioning how often friends and neighbors wear masks or how officials have responded.

“The hospital has a sales tax initiative that is on the ballot, and we don’t want to upset anyone,” said David K. Dile, chief executive officer of Gove County Medical Center, who tested positive for the virus. The medical center includes both a community hospital and a nursing home.

Gove County is perhaps best known for its isolated stand of chalk pyramids that can survive 60 feet above the prairie, and some if its 2,600 inhabitants live closer to Denver than to the capital of Topeka.

President Donald Trump is popular in the county, and local officials quickly abandoned the mask order this summer after receiving warmth from some local residents and criticizing such policies of one president. Funerals and weddings are gone. So on the last Friday of September, two of his high school students returned home to play a football game between eight players on one side, although people were encouraged to wear masks.

The sheriff, who was then released from the hospital, was fielding a call from Hayes Medical Center last week. The pulse oximeter started beeping, indicating that its oxygen level was low. He jumped up and took a deep breath.

“He’ll be out of here in a minute,” he said.

Weber had been hospitalized in the past for an asthma attack, but coronavirus symptoms were more pronounced. “You have body aches and headaches. The inertia in my chest is different. ”

The state health department said cases of coronavirus in Gove County doubled in the two weeks ending Wednesday, from 37 to 75 and increased dramatically in Kansas. But locally, officials and doctors say the numbers are actually much higher – 1,0, in the last two weeks with and almost all since September. There have been seven coronavirus-related deaths – again, the highest state in this proportion.

One of Gove County’s five physicians, the county health officer, Dr. “Our community is at a stage where we haven’t been able to address the root causes of any of our cases since last month,” said Scott Rampel.

The county commission imposed the mask order from Aug. 6, when only a few cases were reported, but revoked it 11 days later. Rimple said it is “heartbreaking” from a public health perspective.

In Quinter, the county’s largest city with about 1,000 residents, public schools are taking classes individually and require 300 students and staff to wear masks. The students taste their meals outside under the tent, and the district has purchased heaters and plans to use its bus pantry if the winter weather gets too cold.

Superintendent Kurt Brown is very careful to avoid political debate about the mask or to comment on rules elsewhere in the state.

“Every conversation around this is a difficult conversation,” Brown said.

Gary Krauss, superintendent of the neighboring Greenfield and Whitland School District, said the classes are too small to accommodate the social distance with some changes to the high school schedule. He said the districts considered imposing mask requirements because the school was preparing to start, but “I don’t want to fight that political battle” because “it is very stressful and time consuming.”

The Democratic governor of Kansas and the Republican-controlled legislature have been at odds for months over the response of officials politicized on COVID-19 in an election year. More than two-thirds of Gove County voters are Republican registered, and Trump carried the county in 2016 with about 85% of the vote.

In Greenfield, which has a population of about 240, Terry Cox does not wear a mask at his farm supply store, nor do most of his customers. Now that he’s so close to home, he doesn’t see the virus worse than the “regular flu.” Her store bookkeeper and her sister-in-law have tested positive, and her brother, who lives two counties away, was hospitalized. However, Cox wears a mask when shopping in Quinter.

Judy Wolfe, a resident of Senior Center Chef Quinter, said media outlets reporting on the epidemic “need to stop making a mountain out of molehill.”

He said, “Everyone will get it and move on with your life.” “He’s just dying, along with other health problems.”

Doug Gruenbecker, another Gove County doctor, contracted coronavirus in September and recovered with his physician-wife, Shelley. He said county residents are concerned about personal freedom and are reluctant to say “what to do” prevalent in rural America.

“It’s part of the reason why we love here, because of that spirit and because of that freedom.” “But unfortunately, that’s something that contributes to some of the troubles we’re having right now.”


Andy Tsubsa is a member of the Field Corps for the Associated Press / Reporting for the America State House News Initiative. Report for America is a for-profit national service program that puts reporters in local newsrooms to report on hidden issues.


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