By NICK GOSNELL
HUTCHINSON, Kan. — Reno County Health Department Data Analyst D.J. Gering sees his job as letting his department, policymakers and the community know of areas where they can focus their communication efforts so that the resources the county has are spent more efficiently.
"Reno County is getting more diverse," Gering said. "I would say right now, we could probably do more, especially when it comes to COVID vaccines with communicating to rural Reno County residents. There are a couple of census tracts in Reno County that have extremely low life expectancy rates. One is in the South Hutchinson area another one is in the south central Hutchinson area. We can look at that and try to discern reasons why those life expectancy rates are so low and do a better job at communicating or allocating resources to those areas, so that they can make health decisions that allow them to live longer lives."
It's too soon to tell how much COVID directly, or even indirect usage of medical resources for that purpose, have had an effect on life expectancy at a county level.
"We likely won't know for awhile what the COVID impact was on our life expectancy," Gering said. "Beyond the COVID deaths that we've had, we've also had an overwhelmed hospital at times, people that put off elective surgeries. All those types of things can contribute to other health conditions getting worse and lowering the life expectancy rate there, especially if you can't find a hospital bed."
Also, things like recreational drug use have been exacerbated by the stress of the pandemic, so it is hard to pin down all of those specific factors into one number yet. In addition, life expectancy rates were already on the decline between 2015 and 2017, so it remains to be seen if COVID changed that trend at all.