Allen County’s COVID-19 cases have nearly tripled in the past 10 days, leading the hospital to prohibit visitors, and a local physician to implore residents to wear a mask and practice social distancing.
The county’s active cases have increased to 90 on Thursday, up from 32 on Nov. 3. Allen County has reported a total of 240 cases since the pandemic began, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Allen County Regional Hospital, along with Anderson County Hospital in Garnett, have tightened visitor restrictions effective at 7 a.m. Saturday. Under the restrictions, no visitors will be allowed except for those accompanying patients who are under the age of 18, those who are cognitively impaired or disabled, or if the hospital’s care team determines family assistance is required. End-of-life visitation is allowed for one visitor per day, with a two-hour limit, plus an outside clergy member.
Dr. Brian Neely, with ACRH’s clinic in Iola, cited the recent increases as a reminder to wear masks, practice social distancing and take precautions like increased hand washing, sanitizing and disinfection.
Outbreaks have been reported throughout the county, including at Neely’s clinic and the Humboldt police department, among others.
“If it gets widespread, it could impact our regular services. City departments. Police. Healthcare. In a small town, we could have entire departments wiped out,” Neely said. “We can make a big impact in a small town, either positive or negative. An increase in mask wearing is going to decrease the spread.”
WEARING a mask is one of the simplest ways to protect against the spread of COVID-19, Neely said.
“It’s the No. 1 thing we can do, far and away, to slow things down,” he said.
Neely spoke with the Register this summer about the importance of wearing a mask. Since then, scientists and physicians have learned more about COVID-19 but the basic recommendations remain the same: wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid gathering indoors, wash hands, and clean and disinfect surfaces.
Allen County didn’t report its first case until June 15. As recently as Sept. 25, the county had fewer than 50 cases.
The current rate of positive cases is 17.1 per 1,000 residents.
“Before, when there weren’t nearly as many cases, we could operate under the assumption that the risk was low,” Neely said. “Now, it’s so widespread and there’s a considerable amount of silent spread (those who are infected but have no symptoms). It’s hard to know if you’ve been exposed.”
The reality of the illness is starting to hit closer to home, Neely said.
“Now, everyone knows someone who has had it,” he said. “And it’s not going to slow down until we actively try to slow it down.
“Months ago, we talked about flattening the curve. That’s still the goal.”
COVID-19 brings a wide variety of symptoms, from shortness of breath to coughing and even a loss of taste and smell.
Most people who contract the virus will experience only mild symptoms, or none at all. A small number will become seriously ill, and in some cases it can be fatal.
The variability in symptoms makes it difficult to know if an illness might be attributed to COVID. Cases of influenza, which has similar symptoms, also have been confirmed in Allen County. This time of year also brings an increase in other types of respiratory illnesses and viral infections.
“It’s going to be a tricky year,” Neely warned.
“The only way to know is to get swabbed and test specifically for COVID.”
TESTING IS easier now than ever, Neely said.
Most health clinics have drive-through testing options. To learn more, contact your family physician, a local clinic or ACRH.
Neely suggests anyone who experiences even mild symptoms should seek a test.
“The reason it is spreading so fast is because of that silent spread. People don’t know they have it,” he said.
“So if you find out you are infected, yes, you would have to quarantine but on the positive side you would not be able to spread it anymore. You can stop it there and hopefully not pass it on to someone else who might not have such mild symptoms.”
Researchers continue the quest for a vaccine, and some medications have been found that can help treat the illness.
But reducing the spread of infection and “flattening the curve” continue to be the most effective ways to fight the pandemic, Neely said.
“I keep harping on masks because the more people wear the mask, the better we are going to do. That’s what we were encouraging people to do back in March, and it still works. The more we do that, the less it’s going to spread,” he said.
“The time is going to come when we don’t have to worry about this, but we aren’t there yet.”