County Considers Tougher Rules as 10% of COVID Patients Die

Dr. Lowell Ebersole, medical director of the Wichita area's second-largest hospital system, presented recommendations to strengthen the county’s response. Several echo the governor’s stay-at-home order earlier this year.

A health-care worker adjusting a mobile privacy screen in a hospital hallway.
 (TNS) - Nov. 18—Saying their hospital is overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients — 10 percent of whom will probably die — officials of Wesley Medical Center pleaded with the Sedgwick County Commission to do much more to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus in the community.

And it looks like the hospital officials may get much of what they're asking for, with commissioners urging their health officer to draft an order with more restrictions on businesses and private gatherings.
Dr. Lowell Ebersole, medical director for the Wichita area's second-largest hospital system, presented a list of recommendations to strengthen the county response to the viral pandemic. Several echo Gov. Laura Kelly's stay-at-home order from earlier this year, which was gutted by the state Legislature in late May and early June.
The hospital's recommendations include:
— A complete shutdown of bars and nightclubs. The county's current rules allow those businesses to operate, but they're required to shut down at 11 p.m.
— Requiring restaurants to revert to carryout service only. Restaurants are currently allowed to have limited indoor dining as long as groups are separated by 6 feet of airspace or physical barriers.
— A shutdown on venues that have been hosting large weddings, parties, etc. Currently, those venues can legally operate with certain capacity and social-distancing restrictions.
— No organized team sports. This would apply to youth and adult club teams, leagues, tournaments, etc. Currently, they can operate with a limit of two spectators per participant.
— While the decision on school sports rests with the school boards, Wesley wants the county to strongly recommend they shut sports down as winter cold moves athletic competitions inside.
— A 10-person limit on public gatherings and a recommendation to residents that they limit private gatherings, including holiday dinners, to immediate family only.
Ebersole made his recommendations on behalf of the medical staff after the hospital's CEO, Bill Voloch, told commissioners the situation is dire and expected to get a lot worse if stronger action isn't taken to prevent coronavirus spread.
"Right now we're seeing — and I can certainly prove these numbers — we're seeing one out of 10 admissions to the hospital that have COVID-19 do not leave alive," he said. "Ten percent of our population that comes to the hospital are dying."
Commissioner David Dennis spoke in support of the hospital's efforts to get tougher rules.
"I think that we're at the point right now that if we don't take some additional action here in the near future there's going to be a crisis," Dennis said.
He urged County Manager Tom Stolz to work with county Health Officer Garold Minns and community health professionals to draft a new order incorporating whatever they find appropriate in the Wesley recommendations "as soon as possible." And he proposed scheduling a special meeting for the commission to review it.
He also said he wants more testing so that people who have close contacts with COVID-infected persons can be cleared to return to work or school sooner than the 14-day quarantine that the Centers for Disease Control recommends.
Commissioner Lacey Cruse spoke in support of stronger rules
"This is about life," she said. "When you die, there's no more worrying about any of this, you're dead. And to be frank, I think we need to understand that this is what we're talking about
"Nobody wants to be up here talking about shutting anything down, but I don't believe that this holiday season, anybody wants to have a loved one where their seat is empty."
Later, she said she also wants to crack down on "bad actors" who have been flouting the COVID restrictions.
"We have to have some form of identifying people who aren't following the rules and that's what I hope would be in our next order," Cruse said,
Under a state law passed in June, the commission has the authority to overturn any health order Minns issues. But with only four commissioners on board after Friday's resignation of Michael O'Donnell, any two commissioners could block a move to do that.
Commissioner Jim Howell, who has generally advocated for looser restrictions, questioned whether Voloch could provide examples of other cities and counties that have taken actions similar to what Wesley is proposing and experienced success in slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
Voloch responded that the hospital and the county could study other communities, but by the time they did, it would be too late.
"I think that we need to be the model," Voloch said. "I think we need to try to do this ourselves."
He said Wesley currently has 113 patients with COVID or awaiting test confirmation. Plus, another 37 have been in the hospital more than 10 days and are still being treated for COVID complications, who aren't reported in the current infection rate.
"Currently, 25 percent of our hospital is COVID-positive patients," Voloch said. "That's a very alarming rate. My hospital for the most part is full with patients waiting on a regular basis in the emergency room to get a bed upstairs."
He said the hospital is doing what it can to create more space, including reopening parts of campus buildings that haven't been used for patient care in years, along with flying in nurses and doctors to care for the influx of COVID-19 patients.
He said current estimates are that the hospital will top 200 active COVID patients in a matter of weeks, with no ceiling in sight.
"I am quite concerned about Thanksgiving gatherings that are about to happen, Christmas gatherings that will happen, and New Year's Eve," he said. "I'm very concerned that even the 200 number isn't the top . . . What if it's 300, what if it's 400?"
(c)2020 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)
Visit The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.) at
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.