Ford County commissioners discuss need for masks

Judd Weil
Dodge City Daily Globe

Dr. R.C. Trotter presented his medical expertise and insight on COVID-19 in Ford County on Monday during a consultation session regarding the necessity of masks at the Ford County Commission meeting.

Based on graphical data that Trotter presented and despite a surge in early November, reported COVID-19 cases in Ford County are currently about as equal as the first reported cases back in April.

Trotter said numbers are climbing again and that cases involve a mix of people from different fields and demographics.

Trotter added that the county is now seeing community spread of the coronavirus.

According to Trotter, Kansas’ overall positive case rate is 20%, with 71% of those cases in people between the ages of 18 and 64 and the gender mix between that is 50-50, according to information Trotter had on hand.

Trotter said that among those over 85, there are fewer people from every age group in the hospital than those staying at home.

The nursing home positivity rate is about 27%.

The median age of death due to COVID-19 is 80, with the youngest being 18 and oldest being 107. The death rate across Kansas from the disease is 1%.

“Yes, it’s a low rate, but for that family it’s 100%, so it’s nothing to be laughed about,” Trotter said.

Western Plains Medical Complex currently is caring for 11 patients who tested positive for the virus, with six being admitted to the intensive care unit and the other five being treated on the second floor, which Trotter said is concerning considering there are only seven ICU beds, but he still commends the hospital for the work it has done.

Finding ICU beds in Kansas hospitals has proven to be a problem, and some people with COVID-19 are being relocated to available ICU beds out of state.

People in ICU tend to stay for more than seven days.

Trotter asserted that face masks are effective and proven to protect the people wearing them and others around them.

Trotter called it a small price to pay in order to stem the tide. While Trotter and county health officials believe it is going to take more than masks to permanently solve the pandemic, they agree that masks are the simplest and only effective tool to mitigate the spread of the virus until a vaccine is readily available.

“I’m kind of in the mindset that it’s mask or 6 feet,” Trotter said. “It’s not pretty but it works.”

Trotter said all of his information came from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Trotter said that while his office did have to slow down whereas other people were unable to work, he would not want to push for the previous shutdown measures in place before, so the conversation of how to mitigate the virus falls to mandating masks.

Likening COVID-19 to the historic polio outbreak, during which people stayed home, Trotter believes the only difference in dealing with the two is that polio was more noticeable. He made a similar comparison with COVID-19 to the H3N2 flu pandemic in 1968, when schools closed.

When Trotter stated that more testing needs to be done regularly, Commissioner Shawn Tasset said more cases are being recorded because more testing is being conducted.

“We’re on track to 150,000 tests in the state this month and that’s 30,000 higher than any of the rest of the months we’ve had,” Tasset said. “That’s pretty significant, I think.”

“Well, hopefully we can find and isolate the cases and slow the spread down,” Trotter replied.

Commissioner Christopher Boys said he believed that sometimes masks create a false sense of security, to which Trotter countered that the masks are better than nothing against COVID-19.

“I believe in the masks,” Trotter said. “I put it right in there with speed limits, seat belts, drinking and driving, smoking in public places — and this will be a temporary restriction, not a permanent restriction.”

When asked by Boys if he looks at what other counties have done compared to the United States, Trotter said he is more worried about getting the facts from the U.S.

When asked by Dodge City resident Constance Krestian, who was in the audience, to debunk the rumors that hospitals are profiting with millions of dollars from COVID-19 patients, Trotter said that while there is increased spending for resources such as personal protective equipment, he could only assume hospitals are being reimbursed at higher rates but could not speak for specific amounts.

Trotter did confirm, though, that hospitals are only being paid COVID-19 benefits for patients who have been diagnosed and are being treated for COVID-19.

Furthermore, the primary cause of death for patients who die is not automatically listed as being from COVID-19 complications, Trotter said.

“If you have comorbidity and you have the flu, then I’m going to put 'flu' as the No. 1 cause of death and then the comorbidity underneath, because prior to you getting the flu you were just fine,” Trotter said. “I’ve had to put 'COVID' on not too many.”

Early in the discussion, Tasset brought up the fact that this year could be the last round of holidays for elderly family members. He emphasized how the disruption to traditional holiday plans because of the pandemic can be detrimental to these people’s mental health, particularly citing loneliness.

Krestian referenced Tasset’s statement, and though she agreed that was an unfortunate reality, she asked Trotter what it would be like for someone to be on a ventilator, which also is considered traumatic for someone with COVID-19.

Trotter said that while providers do everything to keep patients off a ventilator, it typically means that the patient is not expected to survive.

This prompted Denise Vocasek, of Bucklin, who also was in the audience, to describe the symptoms she experienced when she had COVID-19. She said that even though she has asthma and other respiratory issues, her symptoms did not hospitalize her.

“This is the thing we don’t know,” Trotter said. “Why does even somebody with a respiratory condition get it, cruise through it, maybe have a little extra cough, and yet other people that maybe do not have that don’t survive?

“We don’t have those answers, and until we get those answers, from a medical perspective, everybody is at risk.”

Trotter said that just because someone who tests positive for the virus has more pre-existing conditions, that does not define their individual survival rate — even though statistically the more pre-existing conditions someone has could affect their survival.

No motion was made toward a mask mandate.