Shawnee Co. Health Officials say goal is to keep COVID-19 cases under control

Published: Jul. 13, 2020 at 6:38 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Shawnee County Health Officer Gianfranco Pezzino told county commissioners Monday the seemingly low rate of hospitalizations for COVID-19 in the county does not fully reflect the impact the virus has on area hospitals. 

“What’s happening with hospitals is their concern is not not having beds but it’s that they may not have enough staff to take care of patients,” he said. 

Shawnee County reported 20 hospitalizations from COVID-19 as of Monday

Additionallly, Dr. Pezzino said about 150 staff members between Stormont Vail Hospital and The University of Kansas St. Francis Campus could not report to work because they were awaiting COVID test results or in quarantine due to exposure to the virus outside the workplace.

Pezzino said being short on staff could impact the number of non-COVID procedures and hospital finances but there is still opportunity to keep hospitalizations under control. 

“I think we have some level of control we’re still reaching out to our cases some too late but in many cases early and hopefully that’ll improve if the numbers go up much higher though we may lose that advantage and the hospital may find themselves under more severe burden where not only do they not have the staff but they also do not have the beds to take care of patients.”

He added, “There are ways to prevent infection: masks, good hand hygiene, good social; distancing be careful who you associate with your chances of being infected are extremely low and if you do get infected and are not in a high risk group your chances of recovery are also high.”

Pezzino said it will take time for the county's mask-wearing requirements to show up in reduced hospitalizations and infections, but the immediate impact is showing.

“I think there’s an effect on those orders I think just looking around the community,” he said. 

“I do see more people wearing masks I do also hear more concerns from people that there is still an attitude of defiance and some people walk into a business and say ‘nope just not gonna do it’”.

Commissioners said people have expressed concern about the possibility of another shutdown Pezzino says it's too soon to tell if it's needed.

“I’m not in a position to make any predictions I’m not in a position to tell you we will have another lock down believe me I’ll try my best to avoid that "

As for Shawnee County’s mask wearing ordinance Pezzino says he’d like to see the county close loopholes in the mask-wearing requirements, improve enforcement measures and  increase public awareness about the importance of wearing masks.

Commissioners also voted to extend the county’s state of local disaster emergency to December 31st, which gives Shawnee County the ability to continue receiving personal protective equipment from the state and other resources and participating in the SPARK Fund and CARES Act. 

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