Area enters less restrictive Phase 2 of reopening today; doctors advise maintaining social distancing and good hygiene

At 10:25 a.m. Friday, the Unified Government Health Department’s COVID-19 webpage reported 1,227 confirmed COVID-19 cases, up 16 cases from Thursday morning’s 11:40 a.m. report. There was no increase in deaths from Thursday.

Going into the Memorial Day weekend, doctors at the University of Kansas Health System on Friday discussed entering Phase 2 of the state’s Ad Astra reopening plan, celebrating Memorial Day virtually and the need for blood donations.

They made their remarks at a news conference this morning held by KU Health System.

Opening up society for some people means that others, such as the vulnerable and those with certain medical conditions, need to be careful.

Dr. Allen Greiner, chief medical officer of Wyandotte County, said at the news conference Friday morning that it is important for vulnerable, older populations to stay at home during the pandemic. He showed a table listing 69 deaths for those over age 85, and 39 deaths for the 75-84 age group. In addition, the 65 to 74 age group had 33 deaths in Wyandotte County, and 55-65 recorded 26 deaths.

Wyandotte County is still worried about the rate of 734 cases per 100,000 of positive cases and deaths, which is much higher than most surrounding communities and the state of Kansas, he said. Wyandotte County had the highest rate of deaths in the state, and ten times the hospitalization rate of, for example, Leavenworth County, which had a higher case count, Dr. Greiner said.

“We’ve got to be careful or we’re going to have more hospitalizations or deaths,” Dr. Greiner said.

Wyandotte County has seen some improvements in the number of hospitalizations, with the number of deaths now dropping as well. He said he is pleased that the Wyandotte County rolling average of case numbers and deaths has been declining recently.

He said he didn’t want people to think that COVID-19 was always fatal, and that people who get out and get tested early, with medical care, may be better able to keep it under control. Testing has increased in Wyandotte County at several sites.

It’s a good sign if the rate of positive cases out of total tests keeps declining, he said. It was formerly up to 50 percent at one point, then down to 30 to 40 percent, and has dropped in the past few weeks Some of that is due to the greater number of tests being performed at hospitals before peoplehave surgeries.

He said they also are concerned about COVID-19 death rates in Wyandotte County, that are disproportionately higher for blacks.

Wyandotte County moved today from the “red zone” of its own plan to Phase 2 of the governor’s plan. He said Wyandotte County is now consistent with Johnson County and most of Kansas on following the governor’s plan.

Dr. Greiner said moving to the state’s plan would help avoid confusion. The plan allows hair salons and personal services, fitness centers, restaurants, casinos and participatory sports to open, with certain requirements for each. No gatherings over 15 people are allowed. Masks should be worn when people are out in public, and social distancing is required.

Wyandotte County’s senior population made up most of the deaths here from COVID-19. A task force was appointed in Wyandotte County to study the issues involved, including standards and personal protective equipment.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, who participated in the news conference, said the next phase of federal legislation includes support for nursing homes and senior care facilities.

According to information from Sen. Moran, $63 million will go to Kansas skilled nursing facilities to help combat the effects of COVID-19. The funding was through the federal CARES Act, through the Department of Health and Human Services. Each skilled nursing facility that is eligible will receive $50,000, plus $2,500 per bed.

The funding is intended to help prevent the virus from spreading to nursing homes that haven’t been infected, and will help provide resources to the facilities that are continuing to battle COVID-19, Sen. Moran said in a statement. The funding will have requirements for nursing homes, and can only be used for purposes that are stated.

Blood donations urgently needed

“We need blood now more than ever,” said Chelsey Smith, outreach and community coordinator with the Community Blood Center of Greater Kansas City, at the news conference this morning.

The blood center needs 600 units a day, and is currently down to a two-day supply, she said. Usually, they try to have a seven-day supply of blood on hand. With Memorial Day coming up, and the likelihood of traffic accidents increasing over the holidays, the blood center is trying to get more people to sign up to donate blood. Mobile blood drives have been stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smith said donating blood is safe, and safer than previously, as many precautions are being taken, including donors and health workers wearing face masks and protective gear. There are health checks at the door, and everything is disinfected after donors give blood, making sure the environment is safe for the next donor.

Currently, the blood center is scheduling appointments at its seven donation sites in Greater Kansas City, St. Joseph, Missouri, and Topeka, Kansas, she said. Donation centers are open seven days a week. Those who are sick should not donate blood. To sign up for an appointment to donate blood and to see eligibility rules, visit www.esavealifenow.org.

Sen. Moran plans to celebrate Memorial Day remotely

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, said he is planning to celebrate Memorial Day remotely, participating in a couple of events including an online celebration for the World War I Museum, Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. He also plans to participate in another memorial event at a cemetery, where individuals are separated by large distances.

Sen. Moran, who has chaired the Senate Veterans Committee, said he has been involved with health care efforts for veterans. He has worked for years to figure out how to get more veterans care closer to home across Kansas, he said.

He expressed gratitude to veterans who served the country and who are serving today. There are individuals serving in the National Guard today, working on tasks to fight COVID-19, he said.

“We’ve been successful in passing legislation to allow the GI bill to apply and be available to students who no longer can be in the classroom and are now being educated online,” he said.

He has also worked for greater connectivity so that veterans can do telehealth with the VA, he said.

He said disabled veterans needed legislation to make them eligible for economic impact funds, and that has been accomplished.

In the past week, the Senate passed a bill for a national 988 suicide hotline number, he said, which is aimed at better improving mental health services.

“I would use this Memorial Day weekend to express gratitude to veterans, to military men and women serving today, to honor those who died in service and to pay respects to their family,” Sen. Moran said.

He said this Memorial Day would be different, and he planned to participate in virtual events.

On Friday, Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at KU Health System, reported 20 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, up from about 14 on Thursday. There were eight COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit and four on ventilators.

At 10:25 a.m. Friday, the Unified Government Health Department’s COVID-19 webpage reported 1,227 confirmed COVID-19 cases, up 16 cases from Thursday morning’s 11:40 a.m. report. There was no increase in deaths from Thursday.

The KU doctors’ news conference is online at https://www.facebook.com/kuhospital/videos/2777352742551903/.

The UG’s COVID-19 information page is at https://alpha.wycokck.org/Coronavirus-COVID-19-Information.

Wyandotte County is under the state’s Phase 2 plan starting Friday at covid.ks.gov.

The state plan’s frequently asked questions page is at https://covid.ks.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Reopening-FAQ_5.19.2020_Final.pdf.

The state has an information page about what activities are safe on Memorial Day weekend, at https://covid.ks.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Safe-Memorial-Day-Guidance-5.19_Final.pdf.

Additional guidelines from the governor’s office about Phase 2 are at https://www.wycokck.org/WycoKCK/media/Health-Department/Documents/Communicable%20Disease/COVID19/AdAstraUpdate519.pdf.

Test sites are listed at https://wyandotte-county-covid-19-hub-unifiedgov.hub.arcgis.com/pages/what-to-do-if-you-think-you-have-covid-19.
The CDC’s COVID-19 web page is at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.

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