Brown County

By Joey May | Hiawatha World

Brown County Commissioners (l-r) Keith Olsen, Dwight Kruse and Richard Lehmkuhl at Monday morning’s meeting.

The Brown County Commission met Monday morning and after hearing updates on county COVID numbers and recommendations from local health officials voted to issue a mask mandate through Dec. 7. The vote was 2-1 with Commissioners Dwight Kruse and Richard Lehmkuhl voting in favor and Commission Keith Olsen casting the lone nay vote.

This rescinded the vote July 6 vote made by the commission to opt out of the governor’s mask mandate. However the county had 18 positive cases, 0 hospitalizations and deaths and only 3 active cases on that date. County Health Officer Robin Downard said as of Nov. 13, the county had 425 total cases — of which 145 of those were active, 7 hospitalized and 6 deaths. Downard told the commissioners Monday morning that there were new cases over the weekend for a total of 468, of which 177 were active. There were three additional deaths that were pending to determine whether they were caused by COVID.

It was the recommendation of Downard for the county to implement this mask mandate as she and hospital officials noted the cases were getting out of control and it was more than local health officials can handle.

Downard said two other local counties — Jackson, Nemaha and Marshall just last week issued mask mandates. She said she felt the county needed this in place to get a handle on the case load and get through the coming weeks.

“Our cases are right up there with theirs,” she said. “It is getting out of hand very quickly.”

Hiawatha Community Hospital CEO John Broberg was also in attendance at the meeting and again implored the commissioners to implement a mask mandate. He said that it took 167 days to get the first 200 cases, but only 14 days to get to the second 200 cases. He said that the state shut down in March to prepare for surging cases at that time and to allow medical professionals and hospitals prepare but the surge didn’t happen until just this fall.

He said this could lead to another shut down, which would hurt hospital services, local businesses and the economy.

“It’s getting that serious,” he said.

Downard agreed, saying that COVID is now “community spread.” She said this means they can’t trace the origin with each patient — many say they don’t have any idea how they got it, although she said they are monitoring some outbreaks in the county.

The commission also heard from Denise Wolney, administrator of Maple Heights, and Bonnie Enneking, HCH provider at the Highland Clinic. Both asked the commission to consider a mask mandate — Wolney said the situation had become very dire for the residents at the nursing home.

HCH provider Danielle Jagels also joined the meeting and told the commissioners she was in favor of the mask mandate and that health officials do know that masks do help prevent the spread of the virus.

“Patients are getting sicker and sicker,” she said, noting that it was a big challenge to try and find hospitals to take transfer patients. She said the hospital is making arrangements to keep more patients in house, but it does stretch their staff and services and some are in major need of that higher level of care.

Jagels said the mask mandate does not have to be forever, just until the county gets through this wave.

“If this is what it takes to keep kids in school, people at work — it’s not too much to ask,” she said.

A few people from South Brown County also spoke against a mask mandate. Horton school officials told commissioners the numbers were being controlled in their schools and they were not requiring masks as Hiawatha USD 415 chose to do so. A Horton resident spoke out against the mask mandate as well, saying she felt people would not support going into the businesses if they had to wear masks.

Commissioner Olsen said he was against mandating masks and felt that things were working well and people just need to use common sense.

“I don’t think think it’s working that well,” Kruse responded.

Commissioner Lehmkuhl said he was also concerned and as a pastor had voluntarily closed his church for the next three weeks to help prevent further spread. He was in favor of a mask mandate — but suggested only for a few weeks to get past Thanksgiving. Commissioner Lehmkuhl made a motion to implement a mask mandate until Dec. 7, and the commissioners would review the health climate at that time and make a determination on whether to extend at that time.

Commissioners also heard a proposal on implementing a modified quarantine protocol within the schools. This would reduce the amount of people being affected by quarantines as long as the students and school staff had masks on within the classroom.

Downard said this is not a recommendation by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and so far the state has not backed this. But some counties and schools are adopting this protocol to lessen the number of people affected by quarantines. She said it would only be considered for like a classroom or activities that are not high risk and would not include sports and crowds at sporting events and other activities.

The commissioners asked for a week to review the recommendation, since the Hiawatha was on remote learning until Dec. 3 and Horton school officials indicated there was not a big concern at this time. The matter was tabled until next Monday’s regular meeting.

To see the county’s resolution and a copy of the Governor’s mask mandate go to https://www.brcoks.org/home/bulletins/brown-county-mask-mandate.

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