Gibbs tells 'good news' of declining COVID cases

AJ Dome, The Manhattan Mercury, Kan.
·3 min read

Mar. 12—One year since the pandemic began, Riley County Health Department director Julie Gibbs said she had "good news" for Riley County commissioners.

During her report Thursday, Gibbs told commissioners that the county still hasn't seen any evidence of COVID-19 variants. She said health officials would continue to monitor for signs of variants.

Gibbs said the number of positive cases in the county is declining, with six weeks of reporting a rate of positive tests below 5%.

Thursday marked exactly one year since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic.

On Wednesday, county health officials reported 12 new cases of the coronavirus, with 6,243 cases reported since last March. Thirty-three people have died after testing positive and another 6,150 people have recovered. Gibbs said four COVID-positive people were admitted to Ascension Via Christi Hospital, one of whom was in intensive care.

She also said the WellHealth testing clinic has seen about 35 people a day; the turnaround time for saliva tests is one to two days.

Regarding vaccinations, Gibbs said Riley County educators and childcare providers have mostly been inoculated. The county planned clinics on Thursday and Friday to administer booster shots to individuals who received their first dose of the vaccine.

Symptomatic testing continues at the health department. However, the screening call line hours have been reduced as the number of people actively reporting symptoms drops. People can now call the county screening line for healthcare advice, including testing information from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.

Business impacts

Relating to COVID-19 protocols in Riley County, Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce president Jason Smith told commissioners earlier in their meeting that he trusts Gibbs' judgement when it comes to mask ordinances. He said there has been a marked increase in economic activity in the community recently.

"We won't know officially what that impact is until we get the returns," Smith said. "I'd be curious to see what kind of impact the removal of a mask mandate may have on people's confidence as well."

County officials removed virus-related restrictions on crowd size and operating hours this month, but the countywide mask mandate remains in place. Gibbs plans to review the mandate by the end of March.

Smith said he does not want to put economic health above people's personal health, but he said he would be interested to see if there's any data to back up the anecdotal evidence of increased activity, with full restaurants and people shopping at local stores.

Smith, along with commissioners, also wondered aloud if the decrease in students enrolled at K-State this year has had an economic impact. Smith said he did not have an answer rooted in figures, but any economic data reviewed for that purpose would include students, faculty and staff at the university, as well as Fort Riley.

"It would be a good time to take any data and see if there are any direct correlations there," Smith said.

Other business

Commissioners heard a report from noxious weed supervisor Michael Boller on the use and sale of noxious weed chemicals through the county, as well as potential future availability of some chemicals that could be affected by trade embargoes with China and ruined chemical storage in Texas, after water pipes in a warehouse burst following record-breaking cold temperatures in the state last month.

During the meeting, commissioners also:

— Approved the amended cost to install water lines at the new Riley County Police Department firing range. It adds an additional $725,000 to the total project cost, which is now $2.225 million.

— Opened bids for a new four-wheel-drive regular cab pickup truck for the noxious weed department; the bids were sent back to the department for review and a recommendation.

— Approved the purchase of RSVPify scheduling software at a cost of $6,552 for a six-month term. The county is buying the software, so resident can schedule their COVID vaccine appointments.