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Pratt County health officials issue new orders for public safety

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
The Pratt County Health Department and Pratt County Health Officer Dr. Gene Cannata have issued a new mandate for public safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic that requires masks, social distancing and crowd limits during the next few weeks.

Following the lead of Kansas Governor Laura Kelly who issued a new mask mandate for all of Kansas last week, set to take effect on Nov. 25, the Pratt County Health Department and Pratt County Health Officer W. Gene Cannata, MD, issued an Emergency Public Health Order for Pratt County due to the impact of COVID-19 overburdening local medical resources.

"Pratt County is currently experiencing a 34.04% positivity rate, our local and area COVID-19 hospitalization rates are surging to where our hospitals are experiencing resource and staffing shortages due to an influx of COVID-19 positive patients," said health department administrator Darcie Van Der Vyver. "We cannot continue at the pace we are and expect the situation to improve."

Details of the new health order, EPHO 2020-1, which can be found in its entirety at https://ks-prattcounty2.civicplus.com/DocumentCenter/View/359/Emergency-Public-Health-Order---EPHO-2020-1-, emphasize the need to wear masks in all public places, limit the size of public gatherings, ensure social distancing, and restrict activities in order to slow and reduce the spread of COVID19. The health order went into effect on November 23.

On Monday, Van Der Vyver confirmed there were now four COVID-19 deaths in Pratt County, with another one close to certification. Other numbers released by the state concerning the coronavirus pandemic, as of November 23 showed approximately 134,533 positive cases of COVID-19 in Kansas, including 1,410 deaths; with approximately 437 positive cases of COVID-19 in Pratt County, Kansas, including 76 active cases, and an increasing number of cases involving hospitalization.

According to Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Chief Health Officer for Kansas Dr. Lee Norman, who spoke during a virtual local leaders conference with Gov. Kelly on Friday last week, much has actually been learned about COVID-19 in the 303 days of impact from the virus.

"We now know that the virus is spread by droplet transmission," Norman said. "We also know that new cases decreased in Kansas counties where mask mandates were enacted."

Norman said the biggest problem with the virus at this time was staffing inadequacies for hospitals.

"We have pushed our clinicians to the brink," Norman said. "We are talking about 8 months of non-stop work and many of our health workers are experiencing front line fatigue right when we need them the most. We must decrease new active cases of COVID-19 any way we can."

A mask mandate was enacted in Pratt County in July 2020 by Pratt County Commissioners, so the  mask mandate from Gov. Kelly on November 23 is nothing new.

"Since we already have a plan in place we know what to do," Van Der Vyver said. "We need to pay attention to this health order and slow this thing down."

A coalition of interest groups on Monday rolled out a statewide public service campaign urging Kansans to wear masks and take actions to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Touted by organizations including the Kansas Chamber, Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Hospital Association, the ad campaign will begin this week and is slated to include a presence on TV, radio and social media ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Hospitals across the state are facing significant capacity and staffing constraints because of increased COVID-19 spread, and this campaign will help ensure the normal standards of care Kansans expect will be preserved,” said KHA president Chad Austin in a statement. “All mitigation efforts taken over these next several weeks will be critical to keeping Kansas businesses, schools and other services safely open.”