Churches close, hospital and grocery store vamp up safety precautions as COVID-19 spreads

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
St. John Lutheran Church at Nashville, Kansas cancelled Sunday services on August 8 due to rising numbers of active COVID-19 cases in Pratt County and the surrounding communities.

Rising COVID-19 numbers of active cases caused an area church to close their doors on Sunday, August 8 and precipitated increased precautionary actions at Pratt Regional Medical Center, as well as at a local grocery store.

On Friday, August 6, the active case numbers as recorded by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment were at 42. That was a significant increase from a recorded 15 active COVID-19 cases in Pratt County on Monday, August 2, and it caused concern for many.

"We had a member that was confirmed positive last week and exposed many of our church members at St. John Lutheran Church in Nashville," said pastor Dennis Fangmeyer. "That, plus the fact that I am out of town in Wisconsin for a family funeral (also due to COVID-19) and our pulpit fill was to come from Wichita, complicated things. His nurse and doctor told him not to come to Pratt County, so we cancelled our services there and at Trinity Lutheran in Medicine Lodge for Sunday."

Fangmeyer said his Trinity Lutheran church had a member die from COVID-19 related issues just last week (Dennis Larkin), so both congregations were ready to take safety precautions.

"We are in a waiting period now," Fangmeyer said. "We will wait to see what transpires this week. Ironically, last year, we never officially closed because of COVID-19. We went online with our services and our attendance dropped very low, only five were present for our Good Friday Service at Easter, but we never actually closed. We will see what happens for the coming week."

At Pratt Regional Medical Center, Communications Manager Andie Dean said visitor restrictions are back in force and the COVID Unit has been put back together in case it is needed.

"We have returned to only 1 visitor per patient for both inpatient stays and outpatient visits," Dean said. "Testing supplies are now on allocation so we are not able to receive as many as we order, only what the supplier sends us. All but one of the temporary walls have been reinstalled for our COVID Unit, these walls allow us to turn regular and ICU rooms into isolation rooms. This allows us to hold as many as 10 COVID patients, as safely as possible, to avoid exposure to NON-COVID patients. As of 9 a.m. on 8/9 we have zero COVID-19 inpatients, but last week at one point we had 4 in house."

Dean said that over the last week and a half, the Pratt facility was seeing more unvaccinated COVID-19 patients seek hospitalization, most predominantly in their 40s and 50s.

"We seemingly have more late 20 and 30-year-olds in the ED with seasonal allergies or maybe some hypertension as their only co-morbidity, healthy, than the first wave," Dean said. "For this wave, so far, our hospitalized patients have been exclusively the unvaccinated. We expected break-through COVID-19 variant cases for some of the vaccinated, but there is no doubt once vaccinated, the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and mortality decrease tremendously."

At the Dillons store in Pratt, a message on the intercom has been playing regularly advising all shoppers to wear masks when in the store, regardless if they have been vaccinated or not, according to customer service information by telephone. Masks are still required for all staff and all employees continue to get temperature checks before clocking in for work. Staff are still required to disinfect all surfaces between visits and safety dividers remain in place at check-out stations as they were placed in 2020.

As of Friday, the U.S. has had more than 35.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 615,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.