To the editor:
According to the latest manifesto from the local chapter of the Dear Leader’s amen choir, Kansas counties with no COVID-19 cases should open up the local economy now. Certainly the local economy suffers from the statewide lockdown. But can they do this safely? I decided to do a little research. I picked one very rural county, Ness, in western Kansas. After a Google search, I had a nice chat with the Ness City Chamber of Commerce. The results were illuminating.
The county is quite isolated from interstate travel. Population is around 2,800 with most of the population engaged in agriculture. The county is fortunate in having two hospitals and two full-service grocery stores which is high for rural counties in the state. There have been no reported coronavirus cases in the county and there have been no virus-related deaths in the county’s two nursing homes. That’s not a surprise because farmers essentially live socially isolated in normal times.
I didn't want to pry too much but I did find out that major medical cases are transported to Hays, the closest large town. I presume then the county’s hospitals have few or no ICU beds.
In all likelihood, Ness County’s closed businesses could operate safely with limited building occupancy, customers wearing masks in the stores and six-foot social distancing. Restaurants would have to operate at half capacity but something is better than nothing.
But what is the risk? Oberlin and Dameron, et. al., can opine to their heart’s content but the county commissioners will bear the consequences of their decisions. Testing all the county residents is not practical. Logic says that the county first responders, medical people and nursing home residents and staff should be tested to see what data can be gathered from the most exposed portion of the population. Bear in mind that Ness County residents probably drive to Hays for shopping and business so infection from the wider world is possible. Some random checkpoint testing on the roads would help. No doubt Oberlin would object to his freedom being infringed by being subjected to roadside nasal swabbing.
Does Kansas have enough testing supplies to allow this random testing? No. The priority for testing supplies is for the counties with reported cases. Since the Dear Leader has not seen fit to invoke the Defense Production Act or centralize purchase of testing supplies, states compete with each other and the federal government to buy supplies. Without reliable data from random sampling, local governments are flying blind. If you can state what is the acceptable number of COVID-19-related deaths, you could take the chance and open the economy.
Dameron states that President Trump is not a politician and Gov. Kelly is. True. Compare how they conduct their COVID-19 update briefings. Which one has the medical people do most of the talking? Which one spouts bald face lies, endless self congratulations, demands public praise and recites grievances real and imagined?
I’ll take a politician any day over a reality show carnival barker.