County health website hosts bad COVID information

The Marion County Commissioners met for their regular meeting on Monday, Nov. 9.

A concern regarding the Marion County Health Department website ( came up when Commissioner Randy Dallke said that he had someone connected to Peabody but living in Texas reach out to him multiple times over the weekend, upset that the website had incorrect information on it.

The concern was valid, as the website had the following statement:

“As the COVID-19 situation changes, so does information. COVID-19 is a novel virus similar to the cold. The flu is more deadly than COVID-19, therefore it is not too late for individuals to get their flu vaccination.”

The Free Press reached out to Marion County Health Department Administrator Diedre Serene but was initially unable to reach her. We then reached out to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and they were looking into it. Before KDHE could respond, Serene updated the Free Press and explained that the statement had been put up back in April and was a canned statement they had used when so much was still unknown about the illness and the flu deaths were higher than COVID-19 deaths.

“We have taken the statement down and apologize for any confusion it has caused,” Serene said

She also explained that the virus needs to be taken very seriously, and as the health department has stated all along, it is vital that people wear masks, practice good hand washing and socially distance. Serene pointed out how well the school-aged kids have done in Marion County with not getting the virus because they are all wearing masks in school.

“And stay home if you are sick. We need employers to encourage that and encourage people to stay home when they are in quarantine,” Serene said.

Public Comments

Commissioner Kent Becker read a letter from a resident of Marion County, begging the commission to reconsider a mask mandate in light of the rising numbers.

The commissioners did not comment on it.

Road & Bridge

Brice Goebel, county engineer, informed the commissioners that he had heard back from the insurance company that they approved replacing the current mower that had been damaged (in a traffic accident near the reservoir on 260th) and will pay for it minus the deductible.

He also said that one of his Road and Bridge employees expressed interest in purchasing the damaged mower, which would provide additional funds to add to the purchase of a new mower.

The department plans to get the same size mower and the same brand, since it has been effective.

Goebel received a phone call from the Kansas Department of Emergency Management, and they did a phone conference regarding the damages from the flooding last year. They will have another meeting in the first part of December, and then, within 60 days of that, the county can fill out all the forms and submit.

“Based on what we have and what we have done in the past, she feels that it should be fairly quickly getting through,” Goebel said. “We at least have the formal process started for the flood damage repairs from last year.The process has started, so I will keep you updated on that.”

Goebel also reported that he is looking at about $20,000 in comp time for his staff due to shortage of staff and COVID-19 needs requiring extra time spent.


Health Department

Serene requested to be paid for 160 hours of vacation that she has been unable to use.

“I would love to take a vacation and would go tomorrow if I could, but I don’t foresee things slowing down at all [due to COVID],” Serene said.

Serene gave an update on COVID-19 in the county.

She explained that the health department continues to turn over non-household contacts to KDHE for them to reach out to since the Marion County Health Department has an overload of cases and a shortage of staff.

“However, we found out this weekend that when KDHE becomes overwhelmed with cases, they kick it back to us,” Serene said.

Serene asked the commissioners how important the dashboards and press releases were, because it is becoming overwhelming to keep up with those and to conduct contact tracing and other COVID-19 related tasks.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to keep up with all of it and has become quite an issue. The other issue is we are getting calls from people whose names we have sent up to the state, but the state is not getting them called,” Serene said. “If we can just continue working on contact tracing and keep up the dashboard, it would be helpful.”

While the dashboard does not contain the age and gender breakdowns that the press releases have, all of that information is available on the KDHE website, according to Serene.

Serene explained that there has been a lot of confusion regarding quarantine for those with a family member or household member who is in isolation.

“If you have two household members and one is positive and the other moves out during the illness, it is 14 days from their last contact to the positive person. Otherwise, if they stay, it is the full 24 days,” Serene said.

Becker asked about PCR tests (which is a molecular test as opposed to the antigen tests) and if they are showing other illnesses, such as common colds, as COVID-19 positives.

Serene said that the positive cases the county has had have been accurate.

In other business, the commission:

•met in executive session for personnel performance and also for contract negotiation.

•discussed the SPARKS funding for the building repairs for the old hospital in Hillsboro, which were done to provide a place for Tabor students to be quarantined and isolated in order to keep Tabor, Hillsboro and Marion County safe and limit the spread of COVID-19. Dallke became upset and voiced his frustration that the funds would be used in Hillsboro like that in spite of the funds already being approved by the state, the firm the county hired to handle the SPARKS funding and the SPARKS committee of which all members were approved by the commission

•heard accusations from Commissioner Diane Novak regarding election fraud in previous elections. The commissioners and Election Clerk Tina Spencer attempted to clarify the accusations, but Novak did not make them clear.

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