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Prattans practice social distancing

Courtney Blankenship
Every pier is busy at the Pratt County Veterans Memorial Lake on Sunday afternoon as area residents make the most of nice weather outdoors. Fishing, canoeing and walking were popular activities at the lake, even as storm clouds gathered in the background.

Numbers of people testing positive for the novel coronavirus continue to climb in the state of Kansas, but as of Monday, April 20 Pratt County had only had one confirmed positive case, and that one is considered recovered.

Tim Branscom, Pratt County Emergency Management Coordinator, said he thinks the residents of Pratt County have done an excellent job of practicing social distancing, wearing masks and abiding by the rules to stay safe. A human mobility company, Unacast took anonymous data from cellphones to determine the average distance people are traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the average distance they traveled prior to the outbreak. The data is entered into a color-coded map that is updated daily. According to that March 30 study, Kansas earned a C rating and Pratt County earned a D in social distancing. But Branscom and other state leaders said that information was a bit misleading. Rural people travel farther than do those in a metropolis, just to work or meet daily needs.

“It is hard to rank each county on a level of preparedness as each one is different,” Branscom said. “I would say for Pratt County, we are as prepared as we can be at this time. We have representatives from over 13 agencies in the county that listen in daily to a conference call with the Kansas Division of Emergency Management and other state agencies.”

At the conclusion of the conference calls, which are conducted through video to avoid spreading the virus, Branscom said the representatives have the chance to discuss any information that may affect Pratt County.

“Additionally, we now submit a personal protective equipment inventory to the state every week that identifies any shortfalls in PPE that we may have,” Branscom said. “If shortfalls are identified, then we will then submit a request to the state for assistance in obtaining the items.”

According to the Pratt County Emergency Management Facebook page, Boot Hill Distillery in Dodge City also contributed by donating bottles of hand sanitizer to be used in Pratt County emergency response vehicles, as well as a larger jug for refilling any empty bottles.

With the recent extension of the statewide stay-at-home order until May 3, Governor Laura Kelly has said that the exact date may vary regionally as counties continue to face different situations.

“As with the previous two weeks, the impacts are going to be different people and businesses,” Branscom said. “We recommend that people still abide by the essential travel restrictions but still support our local businesses as much as possible while following these guidelines.”

Darcie Van Der Vyver, Pratt County Health Department Administrator, said that most patients who have mild symptoms do not require any type of medical intervention treatment aside from self-quarantining at home for 14 days.

“If a patient has more severe symptoms such as shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, then yes, they are still being treated here at the Pratt hospital,” Van Der Vyver said. “If a patient is able to call in before arriving, they are encouraged to do so in effort to protect all healthcare workers involved. The option to transfer more critical patients if needed is still available at this time.”

Pratt Regional Medical Center (PRMC) along with PIMG, PFP and the health department, are now able to offer testing as needed for COVID-19.

“If a patient is wondering if they need to be seen for their symptoms, they should call their health care provider or the health department,” Van Der Vyver said. “They will be screened over the phone and given further instruction.”

While people should still be following the rules set forth by the stay-at-home order, only going out when necessary to avoid infecting themselves and others, Branscom said there are still ways people can connect and stay healthy.

“Exercise is important, and people need to get outside instead of staying indoors all day as this can lead to depression and other issues,” Branscom said. “Find ways to stay in contact with family and friends. A lot of people are now using video conferencing apps and programs to stay in touch with those not only out of town, but even those just across town.”

Many people have maintained their exercise routines while social distancing by walking or jogging at Lemon Park among other places.

“I try to take our Beagle [dog] out for a walk every night,” Branscom said. “Usually not much exercise for me as she has to stop every 5 feet and sniff, but it does get us out of the house.”

Pratt County Veteran’s Memorial Lake has always been a popular spot for those living in Pratt and the surrounding area to get out and enjoy nature. In the times of coronavirus, it seems that many are making the most of beautiful days outdoors, practicing social distancing on the piers, while still enjoying family activities like fishing, walking, cycling, even canoeing.

The only problems are finding a open pier, or coming to terms with the fact that restroom facilities are still closed to the public in order to avoid a collection point of coronavirus germs.

* Reporter Jennifer Stultz contributed to this article.