By Scott Edger
Little Apple Post
The Omicron variant is burying the Riley County Health Department in cases. Guidance changes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are issued at every slight turn, sending local health officials into a scramble to modify public policy.
RCHD Director Julie Gibbs said Omicron is driving the surge in cases beyond the department’s capacity. More than 500 cases have erupted in the county since Christmas.
“We're seeing so much now and it's just come on so quickly,” Gibbs said. “I can almost guarantee that it’s the Omicron variant."
Gibbs said the Health Department has unfortunately had to send some cases to KDHE, but “we're hanging on to all of our cases 18 and younger, and 55 and older.”
RCHD can send KDHE up to 50 cases per day and they have maxed that limit on several recent days.
After assigning some cases to KDHE, the Health Department manages 40 to 50 cases per day.
Currently, RCHD is following the latest guidance from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment; KDHE is trying to follow the latest guidance from the CDC; and CDC issues confusing, and often contradictory, new guidance with alacrity.
RCHD is still offering in-house, rapid symptomatic testing Monday through Friday form 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
KDHE is still available on the west end of the Manhattan Town Center mall parking lot. The location was shut down for a couple days last week due to the cold, creating a logjam of patients seeking tests once the weather broke.
Gibbs said she is working on “Plan B”: looking for a suitable facility that will allow inside testing.
RCHD is adequately supplied for the time being, but Gibbs said her department is seeking other options for test kits and other vital supplies.
“We're actively searching for another source of tests,” Gibbs said. “We're just trying to keep up with the demand.
“We're OK right now but it's a matter of time before our supplies run out.”
RCHD is still waiting on the final written guidance from KDHE regarding schools, but Gibbs said her department is working with USD 383 to formulate guidance.
“It's been very confusing especially when CDC comes out with new guidance,” Gibbs said.
RCHD is communicating directly with district health personnel to clarify guidelines.
"We work with the school nurses to make it more streamlined,” Gibbs said. “We finally have some really good written guidance out for all the schools to follow.”
Under the best of circumstances, access to daycare facilities is challenging. COVID regulations forced them to shut down temporarily, creating financial devastation in the industry.
As regulations have eased, daycares that survived still face challenges – they either cannot find enough workers, or they don’t have enough kids to sustain themselves because far fewer people are working now.
“We haven't seen any new information for daycare settings,” Gibbs said, “and so they're sticking with the old guidance.”
Gibbs said several Riley County daycares have been forced to close.