Your Turn: Spirit of collaboration will keep us moving forward

The COVID-19 pandemic has created great challenges as we all grapple with protecting the health and safety of residents, work to manage the spread of the disease and deal with the steep economic and social consequences the pandemic has left in its wake.

Until COVID-19 is controlled, likely through widespread access to a vaccine, everyday life in Douglas County will continue to look different. As individuals, the more we follow those smart and safe habits — wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, washing your hands and staying home if you feel sick — the better off our community will be.

As we all work toward that, we recognize that for many there is anxiety related to the return of our college-age students at the University of Kansas and Baker University for the fall semester.

As leadership of the Douglas County Education Unified Command structure, we all believe one of our community’s great strengths — a spirit of collaboration — will continue to be an asset as we work to make it through these challenging times.

With individuals from different parts of the state and country returning, we recognize it’s likely we will see an increase in COVID-19 cases. It’s important to keep these numbers in full context.

“Yes, it’s likely we will see a spike in Douglas County cases around that time, but the most important outcome will be how quickly we isolate those individuals, and how compliant those individuals are, to reduce further disease transmission,” said Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher, infectious disease physician at LMH Health. “That’s what we have been planning and preparing for.”

Because most college-age students are healthy and less likely to be hospitalized, the key is to ensure we have strong public health systems and an environment in place to keep the coronavirus from spreading to those most vulnerable. Cumulatively, we have seen more than 700 COVID-19 cases in Douglas County since March, but today around 100 of those are considered still active as most have moved beyond the infectious period of the virus.

All along during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have relied on this collaboration between local government, health, education and business leaders to provide a coordinated response. The earlier public health orders, for example, allowed us to build up the capacity particularly in hospital surge planning, adding disease investigators and to beef up testing protocols and plans to help identify positive cases so we can safely isolate them, especially people who might be asymptomatic carriers of the disease.

You have seen our requests and plans in the works on how to spend $24.9 million in funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This first round of funding prioritized health and medical infrastructure, and we all worked together to craft ways to spend these funds that will help protect our community and keep it open as much as possible. More rounds of funding are coming from the federal and state governments to support our community’s continued response.

As we navigate this bumpy road, we appeal to everyone to think about that collaborative spirit we have here in Douglas County. This is a welcoming community that benefits from people who come from all over the state, country and world to live, study and work. This spirit enriches the quality of life for everyone and aids the economic health of our community. To continue this, we all rely on everyone being “smart and safe.”

As community leaders together we have made plans and decisions to create an environment that keeps this community functioning as much as possible during these challenging times.

For all of us in our community the daily message is the same — wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands and stay home if you feel sick.

We will all keep moving forward – together.

— The Education Unified Command leadership is Sarah Plinsky, Douglas County administrator; Craig Owens, City of Lawrence manager; Dan Partridge, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health director; Russ Johnson, LMH Health CEO and president; Douglas Girod, University of Kansas chancellor; Anthony Lewis, Lawrence Public Schools superintendent; and Bonnie Lowe, The Chamber president and CEO.


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