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Since the global outbreak of COVID-19 came to the United States, local officials began putting policies and procedures in place to better serve its citizens.


It’s a process that still continues as the spread of the virus grows nationally.


Speaking with Ford County administrator J.D. Gilbert, Ford County Health Department director Angela Sowers, Ford County emergency manager Rex Beemer and assistant county administrator Shawn Fletcher on Thursday, steps are still in place with COVID-19, as well as any other illnesses making their way into the county.


"This is what we do," Gilbert said. "With any illness we have procedures in place and are doing the same with COVID-19."


Since last week, when the first case was confirmed in Ford County from a patient who came in from out of state, there have been no other confirmed cases in the county at this time.


According to Gilbert, certain answers cannot be made public due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).


"We are partially activated as emergency response and monitoring situations daily and actually hourly, with the Ford County Health Department being the most active department we have at this time," Gilbert said. "Public health is really the biggest dog in the fight right now."


County officials and administrators are providing the resources needed to the health department.


The same process used for fighting other illnesses such as influenza is used toward COVID-19.


The biggest concern at this point is public perception and getting the community to remain as calm as possible.


"The way to stop this is isolation and it is going to hit areas but for our geography, we already have built-in social distancing because of where we are at," Gilbert said.


As counties across the state have undertaken stay-at-home orders, for Ford County, a trigger would be community spread of the virus.


"The definition of (community spread) would come from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, but there is no definitive number to classify 'community spread,' Sowers said. "It could be anywhere from three to 15 cases, but there really isn't an exact set number."


For county services, a bigger change has been providing them as conveniently as possible to where usual customer service has been altered.


"We are such a customer service-oriented society, that everything has to be face-to-face with handshakes and building relationships, but now it has completely switched to where we want people to stay at a distance to protect themselves and others," Gilbert said.


As departments in the county evolve, locations such as Ford County Jail have put screenings in place for visitors and those brought into the facility.


"The county is going full-force day and night to ensure the safety of the community," Gilbert said. "Rex and Angela are well-trained and educated in these situations. Right now things are on a probability level and of course as we have seen things go, that can change at any time."


Ford County Fire and EMS are also following standard procedures for everyday first responder responses in the community.


Law enforcement officials are also being as active as before.


A major change on the horizon will be with the Ford County Treasurer's Office, as there are plans for a temporary satellite office to be set-up for walk-up and drive-up opportunities.


It will allow for limited physical interaction for titles and taxes.


"When that is set up, we will get the word out on where that will be at," Gilbert said. "We will also be working to modify the current office so if things such as COVID-19 happen again, so we can provide services without physical contact to the six-foot distance."


Another reiteration to the public is what Gilbert called, "Every light in the house is on. Especially on the emergency management and disease tracking side, we are still working really hard."


The county is in communications with Gov. Laura Kelly's office, as well as community leaders in the county and Dodge City.


"One thing we talk about it is when something big goes on that everyone is focused on, everyday life does not stop," Gilbert said. "We still have personnel issues, family issues, we still have unique situations every day that we have to address, so just because emergency management and the health officials are not as visible, they are out there working at the local level."


The CodeRed system remains in place for community alerts and residents can register at fordcounty.net under the drop down menu for services and sign up for Emergency Notifications.


The emergency notification number that may appear on phones when signed up are 1-866-419-5000 for emergencies or 1-855-969-4636 for general notifications.


To contact the writer, email vmarshall@dodgeglobe.com