Local law enforcement authorized to enforce county health order ￼
On Wednesday, November 18, 2020, Cloud County officially enacted Health Order 2020-30. Among other things, the Order requires county residents - in most instances - to wear a mask or other type of facial covering when in a public place.
A vast number of health experts say that wearing masks or other types of face covering, social distancing and washing of hands can greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19.
But, nationwide, there has been a reluctance among many state and local governments to enact mandates or ordinances that require its citizens to relinquish what many consider an aspect of their personal freedom.
A study of the numerous social media platforms available for Cloud County residents finds that the 'mask mandate' is a divisive topic. The Health Order itself was a divisive issue, having passed by a 2-1 vote. Cloud County Commissioner Bill Bill Czapanskiy voted against the Health Order. Commissioners Gary Caspers and Bill Garrison voted for it.
Cloud County Health Order 2020-30 authorizes local law enforcement to enforce the Order's mandates. The Order also authorizes the issuance of fines and citations if any section of the Order is violated by citizens or businesses, including those Sections that require individuals to properly isolate or quarantine if they have contracted COVID-19 or are deemed a close contact of an infected person.
"We will treat the mask mandate like any other issue that arises," said Cloud County Sheriff Brian Marks. "We'll probably give verbal warnings to start with. If there continue to be violations we will give written warnings and then write citations."
Marks pointed out the added burden that something like the mask mandate places on rural law enforcement officials. "We're a small department in a big county," Marks said. "We don't have the manpower to designate one deputy to enforce the mask mandate."
Concordia Police Chief Ric Fredrickson said his department will take the same basic approach to enforcement. "We're going to look at this on a case-by-case basis. We're going to give people time to make themselves familiar with the Ordinance, what it requires, and what all exceptions are, and so on."
Fredrickson said his police department will issue warnings at first, but that it will enforce the Ordinance. "Normally we give warnings at first, but we will follow the enforcement section of the Ordinance, and issue fines if necessary."
Fredrickson, like Marks, said he expects things to go smoothly and that the vast majority of county residents will comply with the Health Order. "Based on reports from other counties, they really haven't had that many problems. I know some people will not be happy, but the bottom line is we need to get this thing slowed down, especially for our health care providers. They are really getting overwhelmed by the number of cases."
According to a report on Thursday from the Cloud County Health Department (CCHD), nine county residents are currently hospitalized at the Cloud County Health Center (CCHC), and five other residents are hospitalized out of county.
"For us, everything we have been worried about for the last six months has pretty much hit and is happening to us," said CCHC physician Dr. Justin Poore. "We went from having two rooms specifically for COVID to four rooms specifically for COVID, and now we have added another seven rooms for COVID."
Lack of beds, and an overwhelmed healthcare system, are reaching critical levels. The Kansas Department of Health & Environment (KDHE) has added the Mt. Joseph Senior Village in Concordia and the Park Villa Nursing Home in Clyde to its list of COVID-19 Cluster Sites.
Poore believes that it is imperative that the county has a mask mandate and an ordinance that specifies social distancing requirements and limits to large gatherings. "Not one of those things is going to be foolproof in getting our numbers down. I think it is going to have to be a combined effort with all those things."
Dr. Dorothy Breault, the Cloud County Health Department's Medical Director, was grateful that the County Commission passed Health Order 2020-30. "I really appreciate that," she said, "especially given our dire situation here at our hospital as well as hospitals around the state and region."
Poore said that Wednesday was an especially rough day, with pretty much all of the emergency rooms full at one time, and patients waiting to get up to the emergency room. "So things are pretty dire. We really can't get anybody upstream. The only way we are going to get you upstream to a larger facility is if you are going to need a ventilator."
To underscore the shortage of available beds anywhere in the region, Poore said he talked to a physician friend in Pratt who had a major trauma over the weekend, and the closest place they could send the individual was to was Lubbock, Texas, 418 miles away.
On Tuesday, November 17, the Republic County hospital issued a public statement saying that they are concerned about the surging number of cases and the current state of healthcare. As first reported by KNCK News, the Republic County hospital says it is having great difficulty in finding urban facilities to take their patients who need advanced, prolonged care. Also, recent transfers are requiring multiple calls to more than ten outlying hospitals, taking precious time to establish ongoing care for their patients. Combined with the strain on EMS services and other transfer companies, getting advanced care is becoming increasingly difficult, especially for the at-risk elderly.