Businesses and churches make adjustments due to coronavirus concerns

Fran Brownell and Jennifer Stultz
Many customers found empty shelves in the toilet paper aisle at Pratt's Walmart store over the weekend and early in the week. Shipments of such supplies continue to come in but are bought up quickly by anxious residents coming to terms with the reality that COVID-19 is spreading in the state.

Pratt had no official reported cases of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19 as of Monday afternoon, March 16. But evidence of the disease affecting worldwide health was visible in empty store shelves, meeting and school cancellations and continual updates via news media.

“Everyone has a roll to play to reduce and slow transmission of COVID-19,” said Pratt County Health Director Darcie VanDerVyver.  “Our stores can support our population if we all take our normal ration of items. There is no need to hoard. Everyone should remain calm, remain kind and stay well.”

VanDerVyver also said would encourage residents to check on elderly neighbors to see if they need anything so they do not need to go out into the community.

“They are the most vulnerable population,” VanDerVyver said.

Heading warnings from news sources, elected officials and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), many in Pratt went to the local stores to stock up on distinfectants, toiletry items and food.

Walmart employees struggled to keep toilet paper on hand, with empty shelves much of the weekend and into the week at the Pratt store. New deliveries came in but were quickly absorbed by an anxious public.

Terry Gatlin of Gatlin Pharmacy, 420 Country Club Drive, said the shortage of hand-sanitizer products left him and wife (business partner) Michelle frustrated to the point they decided to start making their own to sell. They have available their own sanitizing product, packaged in four-ounce containers.

Dillons has taken a stand of limiting the number of cold, flu and sanitation products per customer and has also posted online the steps being taken to protect customers and associates, including more frequent cleaning of commonly used areas and sanitizing restrooms more frequently.

Dollar General’s corporate office put out a statement that, as of this week, morning hours will be devoted to serving senior citizens for their shopping needs, and asked other shoppers to wait until later to come in for purchases. They will also be shortening open hours for the protection of their own employees.

National, state and local health officials all recommend social distancing to prevent the spread of any virus germs that might make their way into south central Kansas.

Many church congregations in the Pratt area have made hanges in their services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the Pratt Abundant Harvest Church of the Nazarene on Sunday, the usual “meet and greet” time was suspended and collection plates were not passed hand-to-hand through the pews. Instead, collection plates were placed at the back of the church for tithes and offerings to be collected.

Karen Lemon, pastor at Pratt’s All Saints Episcopal Church, said her congregational members were not too excited about making a lot of changes in response to the coronavirus disease.

“Our bishop met by way of video with the clergy last week and we have another one scheduled for this Wednesday. As of today, we aren't making any major change,” she said. “My group here wasn't really excited about making too many changes this early, so we didn't skip the wine for communion or anything like that. We are sort of playing it by ear. With no cases in this area we aren't inclined to get too excited.”

At the Pratt Free Methodist Church, however, pastor Matthew Tuszynski made the following statement:

“Due to the White House's recommendation not to attend gatherings of greater than 10 people, we will not be holding any of our regular Sunday morning activities this week. I will be livestreaming the sermon on Facebook at 11 a.m. Sunday morning! I encourage you all to stay connected with your small groups via chat groups, or group emails in the coming weeks.”

According to USA Today’s Monday report, the death toll from COVID-19 in the United States rose to 85, with more than 4,600 known cases as of Monday afternoon. The global deaths surged past 7,100.

There has been only one death due to coronavirus recorded in Kansas so far, and that one occurred in Johnson County.