Following is the Saline County Health Department COVID-19 update for Friday.
It's not just COVID. It's everything
The first known case of COVID-19 in Saline County was reported on March 28, 2020, marking the beginning of the pandemic in Saline County. With the second anniversary quickly approaching, the local healthcare community is strained more than ever before.
As it stands today, at least 194 members of our community have lost their lives to COVID-19, accounting for more than two people per week since the pandemic began.
Salina Regional Health Center Over Capacity
The surge of COVID-19 cases that started in mid-December has often put Salina Regional Health Center and many others across the state past maximum capacity. The patient load alone is enough to strain the resources of any hospital but is compounded by staffing shortages from illness and burnout.
"We've had between 25 and 30 COVID patients each day; with 6 to 12 of those in the ICU; 3 to 6 on ventilators; and usually 5 to 10 in the ER waiting for beds," explained Dr. Freelove, SRHC Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President. "Unfortunately, those aren't the only patients waiting for a bed. The hospital has been holding 8 to 15 non-COVID patients in the ER each day. All of our inpatient numbers would be higher if we had the staff and space to care for them."
At times, these COVID and non-COVID patients take up every single bed in Salina's emergency room, sometimes leaving no place for patients to be seen.
Car accidents and other tragedies don't stop when ER beds run out. In order to continue seeing emergency patients, the ER has overflowed to other areas of the hospital.
As a result, the hospital has had to cancel surgeries important to quality of life and even life itself. Salina Regional has been unable to accept transfers from neighboring counties, forcing these smaller hospitals to function well beyond their capacity, which puts all patients at risk.
What can I do? Know the difference in Emergency vs. Urgent Care and save the emergency room for emergencies.
The local supply of monoclonal antibodies has run out, leaving fewer options to treat the mildly ill at high risk of severe disease.
On the testing front, local health agencies struggle daily with testing capacity and constantly battle test kit supply shortages. Test kit shortages lead to test rationing and extended turn-around times to get results for outpatient testing.
Testing supply is being further depleted by employers requiring lab-confirmed test results for employees to be excused from work. The health department has made repeated pleas with employers to re-think their policies.
What can I do? Employers are an integral partner in public health. Employers can adapt policies to allow at-home testing to be used in place of lab-confirmed testing if possible and to allow employees to stay home when they are sick without unnecessary financial burden.
Many countries have re-opened their borders but now require a negative test for entry. Testing requirements vary from country to country with many requiring the same vital testing supplies already being rationed in emergency rooms across the country. Artists across the country are also placing testing requirements on their concerts and public appearances.
While the county struggles with lab-confirmed testing supplies, the demand for at-home test kits has been high. Salina Family Healthcare Center recently held a test kit giveaway and saw the entire supply of test kits depleted in a matter of minutes.
Strides have been made to make at-home testing more equitable for everyone. Insurance providers are now required to cover the cost of up to eight at-home COVID tests per person per month. Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order four free at-home COVID-19 tests.
The number one thing people can do to combat COVID-19 is to stay home if they feel sick.
"It doesn't matter if it's COVID or a cold - the healthcare community needs you to stay home," said Saline County Health Officer Jason Tiller. "Unfortunately, we've heard from a lot of our COVID-19 cases that their employer is requiring them to come to work or face negative repercussions."
Sick leave policies written prior to 2020 are outdated and should be re-examined or replaced to reflect the current health situation.
What can I do? If your company has a sick leave policy that is working for employees, we want to know! Reach out to the health department and let us know what you are doing. Share your policies with similar businesses.
Employers hoping to use lab-confirmed tests to validate employees' claims of illness will face both test kit shortages and delayed results creating more problems than they might solve. Currently, there is up to a week-long wait to be tested outside the hospital setting and another week to receive the results.
"We need employers to use at-home testing for verification when possible," explained Tiller, a retired Army medic. "And to work with their employees to find solutions that don't risk viral spread."
What can I do?
Hopefully, you have noticed the "What can I do?" call-out sections listed periodically throughout this article.
Your local healthcare community takes no joy in asking you to delay travel, miss work, stay home, and re-write long-standing policies. For years you have trusted us with the births of your children; you've come to us to mend your broken bones, heal your wounds, and repair your seen and unseen damage. We ask for your trust and support now and take action - real action.
Since our last update on Wednesday, four members of our community have lost their lives to COVID-19.
The Salina Regional Health Center reports that 23 are hospitalized battling COVID-19.
Another 328 positive COVID-19 test results have been reported to the Saline County Health Department since Wednesday. It is important to note, that this does not include home test kits or those who are presumed positive and do not test.
There are a recorded 2,772 active cases of COVID-19. Due to this overwhelmingly high number of cases, the Saline County Health Department will only be contacting those under 18 years old or who have requested an isolation letter for their employers. If you test positive and require a letter for work, please contact the Health Department at 785.826.6600.
Check out what our trusted hometown medical professionals have to say about the COVID-19 vaccine.
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