Pilot Club helps county health department meet COVID testing mandates Wednesday in Pratt

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
Pratt Pilot Club members Karen Detwiler and Jan Jorns (behind the table) and Tammy Acker Killough (red shirt in front) helped distribute and conduct free COVID-19 tests last week in Pratt.

In the process of seeking grant money, members of the Pratt Pilot Club found themselves placed in a position recently to provide much-needed support towards community health. They took up the mantle of providing free COVID-19 testing options alongside the Pratt County Health Department and RSVP last Wednesday, with the same dedication they attend to all of their club missions.

"We found some options for grants with the Kansas Fights the Virus program and helped create an informational brochure," said Tammy Acker Killough, Pratt Pilot Club member. "Then in conversation with Darci Van Der Vyver at the Pratt County Health Department we found out that there was a major need for help in getting testing done in the community to meet all the state and federal mandates."

Van Der Vyver and three other full-time employees at the Pratt County Health Department all have activities that already kept them very busy for long hours at the Pratt office. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, that just piled more responsibilities on already overburdened workers.

"With more than 9,000 county residents to serve and continued increasing mandates from the state and federal government to do more testing, more testing and more testing, we are just overwhelmed," Van Der Vyver said. "Since we offer these COVID-19 tests free here, when people are asked to quarantine and get tested before going back into their regular routines, or if people need tests to travel, visit loved ones, any reason, we just get bombarded because at the doctor's offices and other places they have to pay a co-pay up front."

Van der Vyver said the Pilot Club's request for a way to provide help was a blessing she was very grateful to receive.

"We are able to provide the tests but with 40-60 people coming in each week, we just don't have the extra help to do all this added testing," Van der Vyver said. "I've had an ad out for more than two weeks now for help, but we haven't had even one applicant. We just need someone to administer and pass out the tests. That's what the Pratt Pilot Club offered to last week, and they will be doing it again in the near future."

Van der Vyver said the local hospital had occasionally offered drive-through free testing in the past, but they were also experiencing staffing issues at this time. Gatlin Pharmacy was working on getting set up for free testing, and the new Urgent Care facility in Pratt had also had some staffing issues. COVID tests have been available at Dillons and Walmart in town, but many people have come to the county health department for these free services in the past months.

"With flu shots and flu season already upon us, we just started giving those shots last week, we are even busier, just too busy," Van der Vyver said. "It seems like the mandates keep changing, and in order to protect the mental health of the staff we do have, we've had to adopt a strict schedule of who can do what when. I know it makes it unhandy for the public, but we have been completely overwhelmed for so long. I don't know when it will ever end."

For Pilot Club members who administered 9 saliva tests and passed out 57 take-home BinaxNow COVID-19 tests on Wednesday, September 29 at the Pratt Community Building on North Main, helping out was something they were happy to do.

"Our volunteers were all vaccinated and we moved our table outdoors to be more visible," Killough said. "KDHE provided us with ample personal protection equipment and we all felt quite safe helping the public."

Killough said three people served were symptomatic for COVID-19, but all safety precautions were observed and there had been no reports of those helping coming down with COVID symptoms.

"We were just happy to fill a need," Killough said. "It became more important to serve our community than to find the grant money. I'm sure we will get our expenses covered but I'm not sure if there was any further incentive to help as we did. It was just an important need in our community, one that is ongoing."

Killough said the Pratt Pilot Club would be conducting another testing clinic for the health department on Wednesday, November 3 at the same location in Pratt.

"If we can help by providing man-power to get this disease stomped out, then that's what we will do," Killough said. "There may be more free testing clinics in our future."

Van der Vyver said those needing COVID-19 testing options could still come to the Pratt County Health Department for walk-in tests every Thursday. Booster shots for Moderna users who are immuno-compromised and Pfizer boosters for any age, are available at this time, as are initial COVID-19 shots and flu shots.

"We don't ask any questions," Van der Vyver said. "We just encourage all patrons to talk with their doctors first before coming here."

Pratt County active numbers for positive COVID-19 cases have dropped to less than 20 after a spike up to 70 in mid-September. Area schools have gone back to lower mask protocols as active cases and quarantine issues lessen.

Van der Vyver said it was still of upmost important, however, for people to stay home if they were not feeling well, and to continue to heed common-sense, health practices of washing hands frequently.

For more information on Pratt County Health Department services visit their website http://prattcounty.org/ or Facebook page, or call (620) 672-4135.