County reacts to COVID-19 pandemic

Everyone from Marion County to around the world is talking about COVID-19, or the coronavirus, right now. While many think the hype surrounding it is ridiculous, others have valid fear and concerns.

“I think it is important for people to remain calm and get information. Panicking doesn’t help anything. And good hand washing and staying away from people if you are sick should be taken very seriously,” said Isabel Schmedemann, CEO of Herington Hospital.

Tabor College

Hillsboro citizens specifically grew concerned last week as rumors circulated that two Tabor students had been quarantined with the virus. This was not true, and there are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus at the moment at the college.

The college released an official statement Friday morning stating the following:

“Tabor College is monitoring the international coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak through credible sources such as the Centers for Disease Center and Prevention (CDC), the EPA, the USDA and the Kansas Department of Health & Environment (KDHE). Also, the college is cooperating with local health care professionals to assure that the campus is ready, should any cases be confirmed.

Tabor is encouraging the campus community to follow primary sanitary precautions to reduce the probability of contracting or spreading the virus, should they encounter someone who is contagious. These steps include frequent and thorough hand-washing, avoiding individuals who have high temperatures, covering coughs and sneezes, not sharing hand towels and pillows, as well as reporting to campus resident life staff if they have a high fever, cough and/or trouble breathing. The college food service provider, Pioneer College Caterers, is assuring thorough cleaning and sanitary protocols in operational spaces around campus.

The college enrolls students from more than 30 states and 14 of countries, and some of these areas have experienced confirmed cases of the virus. The college is being watchful and cautious in the days leading up to Spring Break (March 13-23), advising students, faculty and staff to curtail travel to higher risk areas and to take care to report any illness when returning to campus after the one-week break.

Since then, Tabor has had to alter their plans as many colleges and institutions have had to this as information rapidly changes.

The latest update includes this information:

Tabor College is facing an unprecedented situation with the spread of COVID-19. The health and welfare of our students, faculty and staff are of utmost importance to us. After prayerful consideration and careful planning, we have entered into uncharted territory with an assurance that the Lord is with us.

Due to our concern regarding the coronavirus pandemic, and our desire to be responsible and respectful citizens, Tabor College is taking the following actions:

1. Spring break will continue as planned March 16-20.

2. All Tabor-sponsored co-curricular activities will be suspended beginning March 13 through April 5. The ongoing status of these activities for the remainder of the semester will be addressed at that time.

3. All students who leave campus for Spring Break must remain away from campus until April 5.

•Between March 23 and April 5, all classes will be taught online.

•The first day of online classes will be Monday, March 23.

•Students who are approved to remain in the residence halls during Spring Break may remain on campus during this time with restrictions. Questions about academics should be addressed to students’ advisors.

•More information about returning to campus will be forthcoming.

•To be clear, there are no known confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus on the Tabor Campus at this time.

•As more details become available, they will be posted on the Tabor College website at

•Students are encouraged to check their Tabor e-mail often.

Herington Hospital

Herington Hospital, which is in neighboring Dickinson County and has a clinic in Hillsboro, is daily updating their website and Facebook page with information related to the virus. Here is some of the information from today’s update:

“There has been so much information on the news about the coronavirus, and between the media outlets and the CDC and KDHE, we in health care are on overload. I want to take a minute and share with our community that much of what is being put forth about the coronavirus also relates to Influenza A and B, so I want to remind all of us of the following:

•Whether the flu or coronavirus (COVID-19), you can protect yourself by staying home when you are sick. Stay home if you are experiencing fever, cough or other signs of illness. Monitor your symptoms.

•If you are sick and think you need medical care, consider calling your provider. If after clinic hours, come to the emergency department. If you are having severe respiratory symptoms such as difficulty breathing or if you have a medical emergency, call 911.

•Avoid contact with people who are sick.

•Distance yourself from others and limit or avoid contact with others if you are sick to help protect those who are not sick and those who may suffer from chronic diseases with lowered resistance to infection.

•Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

•Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.

•If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.

•Cover your cough and sneeze.

•Avoid touching your face.

•Clean surfaces, such as doorknobs, keyboards, phones, tables and counters every day.

So much focus has been on the coronavirus, and there is much we are still learning about that virus. In the meantime, we want to provide information and help you prevent the spread of whatever is making you sick.”

Schmedemann went on to add, “I don’t want our communities to lose sight of the fact that we are more at risk of catching Influenza A and B than we are of getting the coronavirus. All of these above precautions are just good practice for this season of cold and flu anyway.”

They are offering daily KDHE updates on their website and Facebook.

Hillsboro Community Hospital

The Hillsboro Community Hospital is fully staffed and ready to serve you, but they also want to remind you that the coronavirus, as well as Influenza A and B, are all viruses that do not have solutions.

“If you are sick, stay home, avoid contact with other people,” said Pam Cartwright, the newly appointed Certified Nurse Officer of the hospital.

“The number one thing is wash your hands,” added Krista Schneider, Infection Preventionist, RN. “And just know the situation is rapidly evolving. We are keeping up to date with CDC and KDHE. Follow their websites and keep up to date. And while we have to limit visitors and such, we are encouraging check-in by phone with the nurses as well as phone visitation.”

Cartwright added, “Just a heads up at the Hillsboro Clinic/Hospital. If you are sick with cough, fever, etc., please do not come to walk in or walk-in for anappointment. We ask that you call 620-947-1421, option 2, to speak with one of the staff. We will be prescreening all sick patients so we can correctly treat you or send you to the correct place for test collection. There has also been an increase in Influenza A at this time along with other viral type infections. Also remember to immediately place a mask on once inside the doors if you are instructed to come in. Thank you in advance as we properly prepare for COVID-19 in our community. We are daily getting updates from KDHE for up-to-date instruction.”

The hospital also suggests that people check in daily with KDHE and CDC updates, as things are rapidly updating with those websites. The hospital is working around the clock to provide the best care.

St. Luke’s Hospital

Jeremy Ensey, CEO of St. Luke’s Hospital, struggles as he emotionally empathizes with his patients but has to be firm and safe and enforce boundaries for them.

For the nursing home in particular, he stated that they had to put stipulations in place in the nursing home a few days ago, including taking temperatures of their staff and making sure that they are healthy.

Ensey encourages people to call the clinic first rather than to come into the clinic if they think they possibly have the coronavirus.

“We are following the CDC and KDHE guidelines, and there are no visitors to the nursing home,” said Ensey. “I feel for them. But phone visits, Facetime and seeing each other through the door are still allowed.”

Marion County Health Department

Diedre Serene, administrator of the health department, would like all Marion County residents to remember that, as of last Saturday, even in China, no children have died.

“If we are closing school, it isn’t so that you can go to the movies or pizza place or other places. Avoid places with a lot of people,” Serene said.

If you think you have the coronavirus, call before you go in. If you are a candidate for testing, they will give you specific directions for what to do next. And do call your health care provider if you have been around a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have traveled to an area with it.

Serene reminded citizens that KDHE typically batches tests at 9 and 5. There can be a delay in diagnosis, she noted. KDHE is currently keeping up with the kits, but as testing goes up, supplies go down. But the commissioners approved the emergency status allowing for emergency funding.

“The best source is online. Keep checking daily on the KDHE website. All of the information you need is there,” said Serene.

Serene also gave some helpful suggestions in the Marion County Commission meeting on Monday. She continuously pointed to the KDHE website which also suggested the following:

“Have a plan; if kids’ schools are called off, have a childcare plan. Keep adequate supply of food, water, pet food for two weeks. Call family, friends, relatives and plan in case of need of quarantine. Plan one room in house in case of illness. Plan to keep working thermometers, over-the-counter medicines, daily meds, etc. Know employers plans, create emergency contact list and more. And as always, guidance is available on KDHE website,” pointed out Serene. “Mainly, stay calm and be prepared. Wash hands and get your info through reliable sources.”

Marion Food Bank

Here are some thoughts and tips for all of our food banks from the Marion Food Bank on March 16.

In an abundance of caution regarding the potential impact of COVID-19, the Marion County Food Bank is moving to a drive-thru model pantry effective immediately.

“The well-being and safety of volunteers and the households we serve is our utmost priority,” they said. “We have stepped up our protocols to mitigate the spread of illness and to ensure food safety. We are taking all possible precautions in the event the virus begins to have a wider impact. We are in daily communication with appropriate agencies and we are continually evaluating the situation. Getting food out to those in need is and has always been our number one goal.”

“We do ask people to be patient with us as we implement this new distribution model. We will be offering pre-packed bags of food,” the food bank continued in its statement. “We ask our guests to pull up to the front of our building, pop your trunk and we will load the food. For seniors participating in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, please follow the same protocol: pull up, pop your trunk and we will bring out your food box.”

“Unfortunately, for our neighbors who were already struggling financially, this crisis has stretched budgets beyond their breaking point. While many have heeded the advice to stock up on food and other essentials, that’s a luxury some can’t afford,” the statement concluded. “When children are suddenly out of school, they lose access to school meals at the same time their parents may be losing work. There is an urgent need for additional food and funds to support those in our community who are most vulnerable to hunger. If you’re able to make a special gift right now, please do!”

Area Nursing Homes

Statement from Bethesda Home:

“The growing concern related to COVID-19 has made everyone concerned with what is happening in the long-term care communities. Our mission at Bethesda is to seek to be a community formed by the spirit of Jesus Christ to fulfill the lives of adults with special needs in a place that is home. And despite COVID-19, we are maintaining our mission.

“Starting last Wednesday, Bethesda Home began the process of routing all families/visitors/vendors through our main entrance. Everyone that entered the building was required to sign in. By Friday we had limited all access to Bethesda except for spouses of residents and vendors providing services. Starting on Saturday, Bethesda Home had restricted ALL visitors and had cancelled all communal dining as well as group activities. If residents desire to come out to the main dining room for their meals we are making sure that they remain at least 6 feet apart from any other resident.

“Every staff member and vendor that comes through the doors of Bethesda is screened for respiratory symptoms, international travel in the last 14 days, close contact with a person that has suspected or confirmed COVID-19 as well as having their temperature taken. This has been in effect since Friday.

“Bethesda Home is committed to providing great care to our residents and meeting their needs 100 percent of the time. Although life is not as social as it once was, we are still engaging every resident throughout the day with calls to their loved ones, 1:1 activities, exercising and eating balanced and nutritious meals. Residents have been very understanding of the changes that have taken place and although they are ready to get back to life as we once knew it, they are all smiling and doing well.

“Bethesda Home has been and will continue to follow the recommendations of the CDC and KDHE on prevention steps, including following strict hand-washing procedures, and in many circumstances, wearing gowns and gloves when interacting with residents who are sick. In addition, our community is in close contact with the local and state health department and are following their guidance. We are posting signs on our entryway doors to notify visitors of the symptoms of COVID-19 with the notice that all visitors are restricted at this time.

“For additional information, please visit the CDC’s coronavirus disease information page at”

Statement from Parkside:

“Under the recommendation of the CDC and KDHE we are restricting visitation at Parkside in both health care and assisted living at this time. COVID-19 is extremely dangerous for older adults and many populations outside of the elderly do not show any symptoms but are able to transmit the virus to others.

“Staff, medical providers, vendors and Hospice staff are permitted to enter after completing a health screening questionnaire and are approved for entry. Medical appointments that are for routine visits will not occur. We are monitoring the health of our residents daily and will report any changes in status to a resident’s primary care physician.

“CMS has issued guidelines that prevent us from holding group activities and group dining, unless we are able to maintain a distance of six feet between residents. We are creating activity packets for residents to do in their rooms and we provide small group activities as long as the residents can maintain a distance of six feet apart. Some residents are choosing to eat in their room at this time.

“We are encouraging family members to Facetime or Skype with residents; Parkside staff can help to set this up. We are encouraging cards and letters as well.

“Our goal is to provide a healthy and safe environment for our residents and staff. Prayers of support are welcome during this trying time.”

The Free Press will continue to keep you updated as things change day to day. All of the organizations have been amazing to work with and cooperative. If any are not included in this article, it has been because they have been in training or meeting with other agencies at the time of publishing and unable to collaborate. All of the organizations have pulled together to collaborate and team up.

It truly has been a beautiful time of humanity helping each other out. Please continue to check out the websites mentioned above as well as our own website as things as changing daily.

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