Douglas County expects COVID-19 to peak in 30 days; 1st case of community spread suspected

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Dan Patridge, the director of the Lawrence-Douglas County health department, takes part in a video conference call with local government and health officials and local media about the status of COVID-19 in the county, Monday, March 23, 2020.

Story updated at 8:47 p.m. Monday

The local health department said Monday that it is basing its work on a model that shows the number of COVID-19 cases in Douglas County peaking in about 30 days with the potential for about 300 hospitalizations.

Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health Director Dan Partridge shared those numbers in a video press conference with other local government and health officials Monday afternoon. Partridge said the projections for Douglas County were based on a model from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

LMH President and CEO Russ Johnson acknowledged such a surge in cases could put the city’s lone hospital overcapacity, creating problems ranging from the number of ventilators available to the number of intensive care beds. He said discussions had begun with other community partners to evaluate whether there are other facilities available to boost LMH’s capacity. He also said the hospital was monitoring its supplies of critical items on a daily basis.

“What we do know is the same thing that every hospital in the country knows, and that is if there is a surge, it will outstrip capacity, and we will have to do our best with the resources we have,” Johnson said. “Right now, we are in good shape.”

Officials also announced Monday that Douglas County has likely seen its first case where a patient contracted the disease locally. Previous patients in Douglas County who contracted the disease had all recently traveled out of the state or internationally.

Douglas County said the newest patient is a woman in her 40s. As with previous cases, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health is working to identify and notify close contacts and will be monitoring them for fever and respiratory symptoms.

There was some uncertainty Monday afternoon as to the total number of COVID-19 cases identified in Douglas County. Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health reported five cases in the county as of its Monday afternoon press conference, but the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported eight cases in the county as of its Monday morning update.

Douglas County health department spokesperson George Diepenbrock said he heard from KDHE Monday afternoon that the higher number was a clerical error. However, the state health department later tweeted that the higher number was “accurate according to our data.” A 6 p.m. email update from KDHE spokesperson Kristi Zears said there were “duplicate counts in Douglas County numbers, bringing Douglas to 6 … as of 10 am today.” Zears wrote that the state’s count is “a fluid number changing regularly as private labs notify us and new tests are run.”

On Monday night, Diepenbrock said he had recently become aware of a sixth case in Douglas County, involving a man in his 40s who commutes outside the county to work.

As of Monday afternoon, Partridge said there are were 27 potential contacts of the five cases that had been reported at the time. Those contacts are under order of quarantine.

Other speakers on the video press conference included Johnson, Douglas County Administrator Sarah Plinsky, Lawrence City Manager Craig Owens, Douglas County Commission Chair Patrick Kelly and Lawrence Mayor Jennifer Ananda.

Johnson gave an update on testing methods for COVID-19, and he said that 100 patients have been tested at a drive-thru clinic that has been set up in Douglas County.

The turn-around time to receive results from that respiratory evaluation center is one to two days, Johnson said. Tests completed at that drive-thru clinic are being sent to an outside lab instead of to KDHE, he said, because KDHE has limited its testing to hospitalized or critically ill patients. In order to receive testing at the drive-thru clinic, a patient must have a physician’s order for testing.

Johnson also noted that there are 1,800 employees at LMH Health who will “be in the thick of this” and who the hospital needs to prioritize in order to keep others safe. Johnson said the hospital is planning for a surge in patients and that if a surge occurs, it will likely outstrip the hospital’s capacity and “we will have to do our best with the resources we have.”

Owens mentioned that, while there has not been an increase in police calls in Lawrence as local restrictions have gone into effect, there has been an increase in “crimes of opportunity,” such as burglaries. He said tensions rise as people are stripped of their routines, and he said he is hoping that people “be kind to each other, take care of each other. We’d like to see that.”

He also noted the importance of City of Lawrence services, such as solid waste management and the availability of clean water, during this time.

The press conference was held Monday afternoon in advance of a “stay-at-home” order that will go into effect Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. That order says all community members should stay at home except to perform essential duties for business continuity or government functions, to get food, care for a relative or friend, get necessary health care or perform activities related to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as going outside for walks while not in a group and practicing proper social distancing.

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The order will require some businesses to close, although a lengthy list of essential businesses — grocery stores, health care facilities, gas stations and many others — that can remain open have been identified by the health department.

In response to questions about enforcement of the “stay-at-home” order, Partridge and others did not state whether punishments, such as fines, would be given out to those violating the order.

Partridge noted that Kansas law allows penalties in the form of a fine of between $25 and $100, and that the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office would be responsible for the enforcement, but he did not say whether those measures would be taken.

The Kansas City Star has reported that violations of a similar stay-at-home order in the Kansas City area will be considered misdemeanor offenses, punishable by a $500 fine and up to six months in jail.

Plinsky noted that Douglas County is working with law enforcement with the goal of keeping people safe, and that one of the goals of Monday’s press conference was to communicate to the community the importance of voluntary compliance.

Partridge echoed those sentiments when asked about placing occupancy limits on essential businesses.

“To me the spirit of the law is the most important piece rather than the letter of the law,” Partridge said, “and the spirit of the law is to stay away from others, to socially distance yourself and do your part to limit the spread of disease.”

Media-Briefing Douglas-County-health-partners.3.23.20

More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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What to do if you think you may have COVID-19

Patients who have symptoms — difficulty breathing, cough and fever — should stay home, immediately isolate themselves from others and call their health care providers. Patients should never show up unannounced at a medical office or hospital. Instead, they should call ahead to explain their symptoms and give health care workers the ability to minimize the risk to others.

If patients do not have health care providers, they may call the Lawrence Douglas-County health department’s coronavirus line, 785-856-4343.

For updated information on the outbreak, Kansas residents can email or call 866-534-3463 (866-KDHEINF), which is staffed 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

More information can be found through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website or the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health website.


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