Your Turn: A message from COVID-19 Unified Command

We continue to work closely together — now more than ever — to protect the health and safety of all Douglas County residents and to provide critical services during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is our top priority.

On March 23, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, LMH Health, Douglas County and the City of Lawrence formally activated a Unified Command under the National Incident Management System (NIMS). The Department of Homeland Security first published NIMS in 2004 after 9/11 to ensure full interoperability and coordination before, during and after emergencies and planned events. We are working closely with the cities of Eudora, Baldwin City and Lecompton in addition to schools and universities, health care providers, law enforcement agencies, first responders, human service providers and businesses.

As the Unified Command, we are continuously developing a common set of objectives and strategies, sharing information, maximizing the use of available resources in our community and enhancing the efficiency of our workforce. We work in conjunction with the Douglas County Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which provides resources and assistance from the state and federal levels of government.

While we are planning and preparing for a surge of COVID-19 cases in our community, our greatest hope is that — together — we can help reduce the spread of coronavirus and lessen the toll it could take on our health care system. State and local public health officials predict that we will have a very difficult surge of cases in the coming weeks, and if our community doesn’t do its part, more people will suffer and the event severity and duration will be much greater. It would be unfortunate to waste all of the sacrifices that our businesses, schools and community have made thus far.

Therefore, it is critical for every individual to practice good hygiene techniques, like washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home unless performing one of the following essential activities:

• Obtaining food, medicine and other household necessities;

• Going to and from work at a business or organization performing an essential function as identified in the Kansas Essential Function Framework;

• Seeking medical care;

• Caring for children, family members or pets, or caring for a vulnerable person in another location;

• Engaging in an outdoor activity, provided individuals practice social distancing by maintaining six feet from one another and abide by the 10-person limitation on gathering size.

If you have symptoms of coronavirus disease such as fever, coughing or difficulty breathing, it is important to call your health care provider for guidance or the LMH Health Coronavirus hotline at 785-505-2819. Please do not show up at a health care facility before contacting it first.

These are unprecedented times, and we understand and empathize with the loss, fear and uncertainty COVID-19 presents. The pandemic could cause some people with pre-existing mental health conditions or trauma to experience heightened symptoms. It could cause others without mental health conditions to experience symptoms such as anxiety or depression for the first time in their lives. We encourage individuals to pay close attention to their mental health and to reach out to Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and other mental health providers and counselors, if needed.

We have a Housing and Human Services Branch of Unified Command, being led by the City of Lawrence and Douglas County, to ensure we are taking care of our most vulnerable populations, which include the homeless, elderly, low-income and survivors of domestic violence. Numerous agencies are working together to provide safe housing, food, water, clothing, hygiene products and other essential needs.

Unified Command has launched a website — douglascountyks.org/coronavirus — to provide Douglas County residents with up-to-date information about COVID-19 and our response efforts. The website includes: videos, maps, frequently asked questions and links to community resources.

Every day, we are inspired by those in our community who have stepped up in both big and small ways. Whether it is posting thank-you signs for health care workers or volunteering to help distribute food, we thank you. We’re also grateful to the Douglas County Community Foundation for establishing a disaster response fund to help those in need.

We want our community to know that we are here for you. You will get through this. We will be stronger – together.

— The Unified Command is Dan Partridge, director of Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health; Russ Johnson, CEO and president of LMH Health; Sarah Plinsky, Douglas County administrator, Craig Owens, Lawrence city manager.

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