By NICK GOSNELL
HUTCHINSON, Kan. — County Commissioner Daniel Friesen in Tuesday's County Commission meeting said he sees the current COVID-19 policy as hard for the public to understand. He'd like to see it simplified.
"We have missed an opportunity with our Health Department to replace some of that complexity with common knowledge health policies like, stay at home when you're sick and talk to your doctor," Friesen said. "We've replaced it with these complex mathematical equations of flow charts involving arbitrary distances, time and places and nobody understands it. We're not stopping to take a moment to reevaluate what our current risks are and whether we ought to define a better policy path going forward."
Friesen made clear COVID-19 isn't a hoax and it does kill people. Commissioner Ron Sellers may not agree wholeheartedly with all of Friesen's conclusions, but he does think it's a discussion that they should hear from the health department about.
"I do think that there's some issues here that the Health Department should be working on and bringing back to us," Sellers said. "Working towards a new normal, if there is such a thing."
Friesen checked with County Counselor Joe O'Sullivan and O'Sullivan made clear that schools cannot issue quarantines, but they can keep kids that they believe have an infectious disease out of school to protect others.
"They do, essentially have a right to control their environment," O'Sullivan said. "They cannot circumvent quarantine."
Commissioner Ron Hirst believes the commission is playing its role.
"I think we have been collaborating with the Health Department," Hirst said. "Virtually, to me, everything that was said here had to do with schools, the school's responsibility. It's not the county commission, even acting as the health board, to be involved, when it a school that has taken it upon themselves to determine what language they use."
County Administrator Randy Partington, County Counselor Joe O'Sullivan and Health Department staff are going to come together between now and the Dec. 14 commission meeting to try to answer specific questions raised by Commissioner Friesen. Below are the questions:
1. Consider eliminating mandatory or mandatory-like quarantine and isolation and focus on simply informing those considered exposed in an effort to reduce fear of testing participation and increase focus of exposure notification where it is vital.
2. Consider matching funding for sick leave for local employers of employees in high exposure environments such as schools and healthcare facilities
3. Consider amending public health communication to decrease focus on complex and confusing decision making involving arbitrary distances, time, and places and focus on common knowledge policy such as “stay home when you are sick” and “talk to your doctor”.
4. Collaboratively develop policy around Covid-19 quarantine and isolation (as defined by state statute) with the county health officer with special focus on due process and full compliance with K.S.A. 65-129c.
5. Discuss what quarantine authority, if any, can/is being delegated unofficially to local school officials and other health agencies.
6. Discuss the conflict of interest and duty responsibility conflicts that occur when a county staff person is also the county Health Officer.
Questions for the Health Officer:
1. In the past 90 days how many official quarantine and isolation orders related to Covid-19 have been issued by the county health officer?
2. Have schools been authorized to quarantine students at home?
3. What reduction in risk comes to individuals who are fully vaccinated from Covid-19?
4. How many children who have been identified as close contacts test positive for covid?
5. Is the health department still contacting close contacts?
a. If so, do we indicate quarantine is a requirement or is suggested?
The full report from staff is expected Dec. 14.