As Riley County surpassed the 3,000 case threshold for individual COVID-19 infections with the addition of more than 230 new cases so far this week, local health officials launched the Fight for the Front Line health campaign.
The program, a collaboration between the Riley County Health Department, the city of Manhattan, the Emergency Operations Center and Kansas State, asks community members to partake in two weeks of stringent COVID-19 prevention regulations. Some of the behaviors, like ordering carry out instead of dine-in meal options, are still optional under the current local health ordinances, but others, like mask-wearing, are mandatory.
The campaign’s requests are as follows:
- Consistently and correctly wearing a mask and keeping at least 6 ft apart at all times in indoor and outdoor spaces (other than at home with the people in your immediate household)
- Washing and sanitizing hands frequently
- Working from home if possible and holding meetings online rather than in person
- Avoiding being indoors with non-household members except for school, work that cannot be done from home, and activities deemed essential
- Supporting local restaurants by maintaining at least 6 feet of distance, consistently and correctly wearing a mask, and by ordering food to go
- Staying home if experiencing any symptoms of illness, and remaining in isolation or quarantine for the recommended period if positive for COVID-19 or if identified as a close contact
- Calling the Riley County Screening Line 785-323-6400 or your doctor for advice about testing if experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19
- Practicing healthy habits: eating healthy food, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep
The goal, according to a press release from the health department, is to slow the spread locally in order to keep the burden of high rates of spread off health care workers. Last week, hospitalization rates in Riley County reached new heights — local health officer Julie Gibbs said that should be cause for concern.
“The rapid increase of COVID cases poses a real threat to the medical community,” Gibbs said in a press release. “If the hospital becomes overwhelmed with severe cases, they lose the ability to care for other patients. We have to take action now to prevent that from happening.”
As of Wednesday evening, seven COVID-19 positive patients were hospitalized at Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Manhattan, three of whom were in intensive care. An additional two possible positive patients were hospitalized as well.
Additionally, the local positivity rate for the last two weeks nears 20 percent.
In a letter to the student body on Wednesday, President Richard Myers pleaded for better compliance with COVID-19 restrictions — even if that means disturbing holiday plans and traditions.
“The virus is a cold, hard foe that does not take breaks or holidays. We’ve collectively learned that it takes the advantage every time we let our guard down,” he wrote. “As we monitor this situation there are several key indicators that are going the wrong way.”
If better compliance cannot be obtained, Vivienne Uccello, city of Manhattan public information officer and chief information officer for the local COVID-19 response, said a more restrictive health order could be on the table.
“New health orders are always an option. However, health orders can be overturned by the Board of County Commissioners if they do not have the political will to impose further restrictions in the county,” Uccello said via email.
Gov. Laura Kelly signed a new order, adding more strength to Kansas’ existing mask-wearing rules. The face-covering policy and other measures will take effect on Wednesday, Nov. 25. The governor calls it an “above all approach” to slowing the spread of the virus as the escalating situation takes a toll on the health care system.
In press conference earlier this week, Kelly said a COVID-19 patient in critical condition at a Cloud County hospital, which is overwhelmed by the pandemic, had to be transferred to a hospital in Nebraska for care after getting turned away from eight other Kansas hospitals.
“We must also consider the burden this influx of coronavirus patients has on our health care workers who have been working tirelessly for months on end to take care of patients,” Kelly said. “We can show our gratitude by doing our part — following common-sense health practices to slow the spread, to decrease hospitalizations and provide much needed relief for the many exhausted health professionals experiencing burnout.”
Every county will have one week to create its own mask order. If they don’t, they will automatically opt into the standard protocol from the Kelly administration. Riley County’s Commissioners, who serve as the local Board of Health, previously opted out of the statewide mask order put in place in July.