Quite frankly, I am not sure where to start. The most important message I want you to take away from this letter is to understand the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic. I do appreciate the leadership of the Brown County commissioners and the City of Hiawatha Commission to implement a mask mandate. As I shared with the Brown County Commissioners on Monday, the mask mandate is such a small portion of what we need to do as a community to slow the spread of this virus.

To put things in perspective, it took from May 4 to Oct. 31 for Brown County to have 258 positive cases. This is about six months. In 16 days, KHDE has reported that Brown County has 554 cases which is an increase of 245 COVID-19 cases. In 17 days we have more than doubled the number of cases in Brown County. In the past week, we have had over 19,000 positive cases in Kansas. Our tertiary hospitals that we refer to including Stormont Vail, KU St. Francis, KU Med, and Mosaic are all seeing extremely high COVID-19 positive patient census. Due to this high volume Hiawatha Community Hospital, as of Monday, has started to keep less acute COVID-19 patients and provide care locally. Monday and Tuesday of this week, we averaged 45 symptomatic patients being screened through our respiratory clinic at the West Clinic. The positivity rate of patients seen at this clinic is 41 percent for this month.

So, what needs to change? I would say it is our attitude about COVID-19. Recently in talking to COVID-19 positive patients they have shared that they have no idea where they picked up the virus. We are seeing community spread and we as a community need to understand how serious this is! We have transferred more COVID patients out of the hospital in 16 days this month than the last 5 months combined! Referring hospitals are not able to take these patients anymore because they have reached capacity. As a way to help off-set the loads of the larger hospitals, as of Monday, Hiawatha Community Hospital made the decision that it will take back COVID-19 positive Swing Bed patients to help free up beds for our tertiary partners. We are also starting to keep the lower acuity COVID-19 positive patients. We already have 2 COVID patients in the hospital, and our COVID unit can only hold up to 4! Our concern at the hospital is whether we will be able to care for other patients that may need urgent care for things such as heart attack, stroke, car accident or more, and whether we will be able to transfer these critical patients to the higher level of care when needed. We need your help!

If we do not see dramatic change in the positivity rate and we continue to see the high volumes of patients in the ER and the Clinic, we will have to postpone surgery and other procedures in order to have the staff needed to help to care for patients. In March, April, and May when we suspended services, it was devastating to the hospital financially. The worst fear is that care is delayed!

I would recommend that you seriously consider the following steps to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Start wearing a mask that is made of at least two layers, when you cannot socially distance and anytime you are in a room with someone that does not live in your home.

Practice social distancing of at least 6 feet, no hand shaking, hugs, and other contact. I know it is hard, we have not hugged our kids or grandkids since COVID started.

Practice hand washing – this is so critical.

Re-evaluate your holiday plans – this is the hardest part

A. Low risk- being with family that you currently have in your household.

B. Medium risk-being with other family members and friends that are not currently in your household. To mitigate this risk, it is helpful to use masks at your gathering and distance as much as you can. I know this is uncomfortable, but it is critical to understand that we must protect ourselves and others.

C. High-risk- this consists of large groups and no masks and social distancing is limited or not possible

I am 66 and I have comorbidities that place me as high risk if I come down with COVID. After cancelling our daughter’s wedding in April. We moved it to Oct. 31. We made some difficult choices for our daughter’s wedding – we went from 250 to 20 people. We sent out an UN-INVITATION and people sent pictures and movies that we played at the reception. It was a more intimate wedding with close family and a few friends. We had masks, distanced tables, and people were seated with members of their household. I am pleased to say that we are two weeks out and no positive COVID cases.

What will you do to help the slow the spread of COVID?

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