A1 A1
top story
Dance academy collects donations for Christmas Store

The local community showed its support for the children of Brown County by donating new toys for the Christmas Store at Stacie’s Dance Academy’s event on Saturday morning at the Fisher Center.

Stacie Newell announced last week that her annual Christmas show was canceled due to issues in finding a facility since the school auditorium was not available since the schools were closed for remote learning.

As admission to the show is usually a new toy to benefit the Brown County Christmas Store. Newell said that she still wanted to offer parents and community members the opportunity to still donate to the Christmas Store to benefit local children so planned Saturday morning’s event.

On Saturday morning, members of the dance academy gathered at the Fisher Center parking lot and danced outside to Christmas tunes, served hot chocolate and gathered toys. Santa Claus was also on site to offer greetings to those who stopped by. The Hiawatha High School STUCO also collected personal hygiene items for their project.

“Thank you all who came out today to support the Brown County Christmas Store!! Special thanks to Jeremy Stover, Traci Blanken Stover, Heidi Diller, Chris Diller, Kimberly Kay Krauter, Ashlyn Riley, Heather Pilcher, and Frank Newell!,” Newell posted on the Stacie’s Dance Facebook site.

top story
County extends mask mandate until Dec. 28 - adds mass gathering restrictions

The Brown County Commission voted Monday morning to extend the current mask mandate until Dec 28 and also voted to add “No Mass Gatherings of 50 or More,” to the resolution.

The vote was 2-1 with Dwight Kruse and Richard Lehmkuhl voting for the extension of the mask mandate that went into effect Nov 16 and Keith Olsen voting no — stating he felt that businesses could impose their own restrictions. Religious organizations/gatherings are exempt from the mass gathering restrictions, but must adhere to the mask mandate.

The vote came after more than an hour of listening to information and recommendations from County Health Officer Robin Downard and Hiawatha Community Hospital CEO John Broberg.

The recommendations from Downard and Broberg was to extend until Jan. 19 to get at least two weeks out from New Year’s for further review at that time and no mass gatherings of 25 or more.

The commissioners voted on Nov. 16 to revoke the previous resolution made in July to opt out of the governor’s mask mandate order. At that time, the county had 18 cases and current numbers show 800 with 11 confirmed deaths.

The resolution voted on Monday morning was an extension of the mask mandate voted in Nov. 16, with the addition of the mass gathering restriction.

Brown County Attorney Kevin Hill said that while Hiawatha had its own mandate in effect, and there had been some questions about enforcement of the mandate, that by issuing one within the county “it’s a message you are taking this seriously.”

Despite the advice from health officers, commissioners did not want to extend the mask mandate until Jan. 19 at this time and preferred to extend for three weeks only to review the county numbers at that time. Commissioner Olsen has made his views clear — that he didn’t feel the county should have any control over whether businesses and schools required masks. Commissioner Richard Lehmkuhl said he had fielded many phone calls from people very angry and calling him names. Commissioner Dwight Kruse said he felt the county was making some headway, but thought an extension would be helpful.

Downard told the commissioners that neighboring counties were still requiring mask mandate and it has been shown on data gathered that those counties who required masks saw a downward trend in positive and active cases.

Downard said as of Monday, there were 85 positive cases with four in the hospital and 11 deaths. Commissioner Kruse asked how the virus was affecting long-term care facilities and Downard reported that Mission Village care facility in Horton had an outbreak that is involving an investigation from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. She said the majority of residents and staff had tested positive from COVID and that there had been 12 deaths of residents there. She noted that two of those deaths were confirmed as COVID-related, while the other 10 were pending. She said her office — along with KDHE — was investigating the procedures in place at the facility, along with whether they had proper protective gear. She noted there had been a couple other positive cases within other long-term care facilities, but none had so far shown the same outbreak as Mission Village. She said that positive-tested staff was working with positive-tested patients just to keep staffing and that there was a big issue there.

“There have been some very big issues in long-term care facilities,” she said.

Broberg told commissioners that the availability of hospital beds locally and at larger hospitals continued to be an issue — as well as the staff to care for those patients. He warned that if numbers of COVID patients that required hospital care continued to increase then the community could see a loss of other services — such as surgery.

He said currently, the hospital had an average of five COVID patients a day in the hospital. Some of the patients with more advanced and serious symptoms had been transferred to a higher level of care if they had beds available.

He noted that Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka had turned waiting areas and lobbies into places where patients can be cared for in order to meet the demand of increasing cases. He noted that space wasn’t necessarily the only issue — having healthy staff to care for those patients was another issue.

“Our biggest challenge is staffing for those beds,” he said, nothing that 20 percent of the hospital work force had been affected by COVID directly.

Commissioner Olsen asked whether health officials had investigated utilizing facilities such as the closed Horton Hospital to transfer COVID patients to. County Emergency Director Don Pounds said the state had investigated that hospital facility and found it did not meet the criteria to be open to care for any patients at this time.

Broberg told commissioners that their COVID clinic had seen up to 50 patients a day in peak times, but on average see between 30-40 a day. He said this does take providers away from the hospital clinic, where they would be seeing people with other health issues or well visits.

Broberg also provided a graph for the commissioners to see the trend of cases increasing in the county. The graph showed that it took the county nearly 8 months to get to the first 300 positive cases and that in November alone another 500 cases were added.

Downard updated the commissioners on a drive thru COVID testing clinic that will be set up hopefully within a week at the Horton Armory. This will be funded through CARES Act money — at least through the end of the year and possibly longer if Congress votes to extend some of that funding.

She warned this would increase county numbers and it’s been made apparent to her that many people are choosing not to test and say they are self-quarantining. She said she knows this is familiar pattern with students as well — many are not testing.

Downard said the testing is free of charge will not be the nasal swab — but a saliva test where results should be made available within 1-2 days. Anyone can test — whether showing symptoms or not. She said this method of testing could reach 200-250 people each day and take some of the burden off the hospital and her office.

Broberg said he felt this drive through testing station was a great service — especially as more people would be testing to get out of quarantine now that the CDC had changed quarantine guidelines — which the KDHE had adopted.

Downard also told commissioners that the Health Department was receiving a testing machine that would test for COVID, RSV and Influenza A and B but they could only test up to eight a day, as each test takes an hour. She also said her staff consists of herself and two contract tracers that are funded through the CARES Act through Dec. 31. She said the state is still requiring that disease tracing and so that time has to be spent contacting people who might be exposed or affected by a positive case.

She said that once the CARES Act funding ends Dec. 31, those contract tracers won’t be available to her and it will just be her. Downard said she didn’t know how she would be able to handle all that’s required on her own.

The commissioners discussed at length on whether to follow Downard’s recommendation of gatherings of only 25 or less. She advised that some other local counties had adopted this guideline and had seen a positive trend of declining cases as well. She mentioned some statistics that for a gathering of 25 or fewer people, those attending had a 90 percent risk of coming in contact with a positive COVID case. With gatherings of 50 that risk increased to 99 percent risk of coming in contact with a positive COVID case. In gatherings of 10 or fewer, that risk decreased dramatically to 61 percent.

Commissioner Lehmkuhl said he was concerned about how this would affect funerals. He didn’t feel the county had issues with large mass gatherings and was in favor of making the protocol no more than 50 — which is what the final vote was.

Downard also talked about the availability of vaccines — which were projected to be available potentially to frontline workers by the end of the year. She said there is a schedule of the release of vaccines, which hospital workers and elderly will be able to receive it before the general population. If the vaccine is released according to schedule — it could be ready for the general public by spring.

Pounds informed the commissioners that he had 10,000 masks that he would like to give out to the general public and that local law enforcement agencies wanted to be involved in distributing them. The commissioners voted to allow him to distribute the masks however he saw fit.

top story
Hiawatha School District to return to in-school learning Dec. 9

After reviewing updated health data for the county and all three school facilities the Hiawatha School District is sending students back to school a day earlier than planned — voting 6-1 to resume school Wednesday, Dec 9 and all athletic and activity practices to start Tuesday of this week if possible.

The board met Monday night for a special meeting to review the learning phase after voting two weeks ago to go into remote learning due to increased county and school positive cases and quarantines.

Board President Tom Simmer cast the lone nay vote on both motions — to resume school and a separate motion to resume activities — as he felt the district needed a little more time in remote for safety purposes. He said he liked the fact that numbers had improved in the county and schools, but thinks “we need to keep a lid on it a little longer” and stay remote through the end of the year. He said he felt that last week’s vote to extend one more week has helped the numbers, but don’t think they are 100 percent yet.

Simmer, as well as the other board members all said they had received numerous emails and messages from concerned parents and teachers. The emails from parents went both ways — some were for staying remote while others wanted to return to on-site learning.

Simmer wanted to thank the community members and parents for their support and comments the last few weeks, noting some were satisfied with the board’s decisions and others were not.

“We all want students back in school,” he said, noting that safety was his No. 1 concern.

Superintendent Lonnie Moser also added to Simmer’s comments and thanked the board members for their diligence in meeting on a weekly basis to review the ever-changing scope of the effects of COVID-19 on the district. He said the board has tried to make the best decisions, based on the data and the guidance by health officials — both of which have changed as more becomes known about the Coronavirus.

Board member John Wright said some parents had reached out to him about financial issues caused by having their children on remote learning. Other board members discussed issues with the quality of work that students were turning in and shared concerns about students not getting the education and interactions with students and teachers they needed while on remote learning.

There was a focus of concern especially with elementary-age students not thriving during remote learning and Moser said the Kansas School Board was set to meet this week to discuss that very topic and how to better serve the preschool through age 9 students. He said the topic of discussion was weighing the risk of transmission vs. the risk of remote learning for elementary age students.

Board member Keith Erdley said he saw a dip in just the way his own two children were learning and he was very concerned with how other students in the district were coping while on remote learning.

“It’s time to get back into class, because we definitely need all kids to be on the same page,” he said.

Board member Ian Schuetz made a public apology to teachers — stating he knew this vote to send kids back to the classroom would cause them extra stress as some families had made it known they were planning to keep their kids on remote learning at least through the end of the year. This does cause some added stress on the teachers as they teach those students in the classroom, but also must interact through Zoom with the students who are in remote learning throughout the day.

The board made their final decision after hearing from County Health Officer Robin Downard, hospital providers and school nurses.

Downard updated that as of Monday evening she was reporting 798 total cases, 95 active, 5 hospitalized and 12 deaths. She said the two week positivity rate was slightly improved at 24.7 percent with 186 new cases the past two weeks. The positivity rate for the previous two weeks was 30.5 percent with 260 new cases those two weeks.

She also discussed the Center for Disease Control had changed it’s quarantine guidelines to a 10-day protocol, where if after five days of no symptoms a person can test on Day 6 and if the test comes back negative they can come out of quarantine on Day 8. If they choose not to test, it’s a full 10 days of quarantine. Downard said Brown County has not adopted this new quarantine quite yet — she is waiting on a mobile testing site to be set up soon at the Horton Armory first so the Hiawatha Community Hospital is not overwhelmed with additional testing.

Also, now that the school is returning to on-site learning, the new modified mask protocol will also go into effect, she reminded. This new protocol will limit the quarantines if students are all wearing masks, spread out 6 feet in a classroom setting. The quarantines will be more focused on high-risk activities such as sports, eating lunch, recess and other times when a student may not have a mask on.

Moser said he planned to have school nurses provide education about the new mask protocol to all school staff this week. In addition, there will be strict reporting procedures for students and staff not wearing masks. Also, masks have to be at least 2-ply for safety purposes.

The school nurses also provided information on each of the schools and none were in the red zone on the gaiting criteria chart that the district uses for guidance on what learning phase would be best. At the elementary there are 28 students in quarantine due to family member positives or other contacts. There are currently 4 students and 1 staff member positive. At the middle school, there are no positive students and 1 staff positive and at the high school there are 3 students positives and 0 staff.

Within the district, some custodians are out for COVID positives or quarantines, but Moser said that District Maintenance Director Chris Morey had a plan to move some around to cover each building.

The board also heard from Hiawatha Community Hospital providers Jodi Twombly and Danielle Jagels. Twombly reported an overall decline in patients with an average of 2-3 COVID patients daily. The hospital staff had been affected with up to a 20 percent drop in work force, but Twombly said it was stable with several staff expected to return soon.

Last week, the hospital saw a slight decrease in COVID testing — with Nov. 30 a very busy day and a slight decline the rest of the week.

Jagels said in a poll of all of the providers, five were in favor of returning to on-site learning, while four of them were in favor of staying remote. She did say that several said it was the most important for elementary age students to return to on-site learning as soon as possible.

Twombly said that the hospital has been keeping some COVID patients that did not require extensive care and some hospitals were still able to accept patients for transfer — while some others had filled up. She specifically mentioned Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka, which has expanded patient rooms into waiting areas in order to meet the demand, but had seen a decline in COVID patients within the past few days so did have limited beds available.

The hospital providers said they have learned a lot about the Coronavirus since March and many patients are treated for severe respiratory symptoms with steroids, albuterol and other respiratory treatments to reduce inflammation. They said there are some anti-viral treatments that have been helpful as well.

Activities Director Kim Lillie discussed plans for “cohorting” groups of up to 50 people in the stands if the Kansas State High School Activities Association votes to repeal their recent vote of “no fans” until Jan. 28. The KSHSAA Appeals Board is recommending reconsideration of this vote and the Board of Directors were reviewing it again on Tuesday on possibly allowing 1-2 fans per student. Lillie told the board members she had enough room in the high school and middle school gyms to accommodate this amount for games.

Moser said the first home games were set for Friday and his administrative team would have plans in place for fans prior to then if KSHSAA repeals its earlier ban on fans.

Some parents may decide to keep their students on remote learning for the time being, and Moser said that will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

The School Board will meet again at 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 14 for its regular monthly board meeting, which will be aired via Zoom over the district’s Youttube channel 415 BOE, which is where recent meetings are available to view.

top story
Cedar Hollow businesses offer new centralized location

Cedar Hollow Farm and Buildings, along Cedar Hollow Tech recently moved their offices to 1000 Oregon St., in Hiawatha.

The businesses, that both fall under the Cedar Hollow brand, are part of a father and son business venture of Bob Sines and Dan Sines.

Upon Bob’s retirement from Cedar Hollow Foods and the ham business, new business ventures opened including the Cedar Hollow Farm and Buildings, which he has been a part of for several years.

Up until this past month, Bob Sines operated the Farm and Buildings business from his farm offices, located 3 miles west on U.S. 36 where he and his wife operated an Cedar Hollow Alpaca Farm for more than a decade. The Cedar Hollow Farm and Building business offers a variety of businesses that are custom built by crafters in Northeast Kansas and delivered right to a home or business.

Earlier this year, Dan Sines moved back to the area to bring his expertise to local residents through a security and technical business – also operating at that time out of the farm office location. He is specializing in computers and smart devices, repairs, updates, consulting, setup and connections, transitions from cable to streaming and much more. Bob said that due to COVID the business had a slow start, so with the change in location to downtown Hiawatha they hope to regenerate the business with a more centralized location and let people know they are still offering local services.

With the new location, Cedar Hollow Farm and Buildings and Cedar Hollow Tech celebrated with a ribbon cutting with the Hiawatha Chamber and Visitors Bureau.

In addition, throughout the holiday season, the Cedar Hollow Farm Alpaca Store is open for just a limited time at the new location. The store features handmade items by Nancy Sines, along with specialty items from Peru that are all made from alpaca fiber.

Bob said they plan to have hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday or by appointment. They are also giving away one Cedar Hollow ham per week and anyone wanting to sign up for the drawing can stop by the new offices.

For more information about either business contact: Cedar Hollow Farm and Building – 547-6623 or email bobsines@cedarhollowfoods.com; website: www.cedarhollowfarmandbuilding.com; Cedar Hollow Tech – 288-8705 or email cedarhollowtech@gmail.com; website: www.cedarhollowtech.com.

top story
KDHE announces clarifications on new COVID quarantine periods

TOPEKA – After receiving further clarification from CDC on the shortened quarantine periods, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) is issuing more information concerning the shortened quarantine periods counties may opt in to.

The clarifications are regarding the date quarantine periods may end. For the 7-day period with a test, the quarantine period will end after the full seven days, on Day 8. For the 10-day period without a test, the quarantine period will end after the full 10 days, on Day 11.

Individuals should check with their local health departments regarding the quarantine recommendations specific to their county.

7-Day Quarantine (Testing and No Symptoms)

After exposure, monitor yourself for symptoms daily or participate in monitoring by Public Health for 7 full days.

If you have no symptoms during this time frame, on Day 6 you may get a sample taken for a PCR test (antigen and antibody tests are NOT allowed for this purpose).

If the test is negative, and you remain symptom-free, you can be removed from quarantine after seven full days, which is on Day 8.

If Testing Results are pending, you must wait until you receive results.

10-Day Quarantine (No Testing and No Symptoms)

After exposure, monitor yourself for symptoms daily or participate in Public Health monitoring for 10 full days.

If you have no symptoms during the 10 days, you can be released from the quarantine without a test on Day 11.

KDHE recommends all exposed people should self-monitor for 14 days from exposure and contact healthcare provider if symptoms develop. The disease can still develop through day 14.

Due to high risk situations, those residents in long-term care and assisted facilities as well as offender populations in Kansas Department of Corrections prisons, are not eligible for shortened quarantine periods in any county.

For questions in your community, please contact your local health department.