Starting Thursday, the Parsons Police Department changed the department’s call responses for the next 30 days. 

This results from the drastic rise in COVID-19 cases at the department. The department has had a spike and logged six positive COVID-19 cases in the last week. This puts the already minimal staffing levels to a critical state, and the department has a need to keep the public safe from sickness as well as crime, according to a release from the department.

With the department considered a hotspot for COVID-19 cases, it is imperative that the department keeps staff and citizens safe, the release said. 

The following guidelines, first implemented in March 2020, will be used now:

— The lobby at the police department will remain open, the records window is closed, and all business is transacted through the dispatch window, which is bullet-resistant glass with a speaker. All requested documents will be delivered through electronic or other non-interactive means.

— Rather than officers coming to the location for reports involving cold calls and crimes against property without evidence, officers will take those reports by phone when possible. This would only apply to calls that are not in-progress, not violent in nature and where a suspect(s) has already left the scene.

— Instead of coming to the police station, the department encourages people to phone into police dispatch at 421-7060.

— Fingerprinting for licensing and employment purposes has been temporarily suspended for the general public.

— VIN inspections will also be suspended for the time being.

— The department will only respond to medical calls for service at the request of EMS. 

The Parsons Police Department hopes that this will only be a temporary change to the way it operates. 

“If we can get our staff out of the red and healthy, we can return to a sense of normalcy,” Parsons Police Chief Robert Spinks said. “We want what is best for all parties involved. So if you see an officer keeping their distance or asking you to step outside or out of a vehicle please comply and know that we are just trying to stay safe but still be effective.”  


COVID-19 cases 

Labette County recorded 517 active COVID-19 cases Thursday, according to a release from the Labette County Health Department. That is up 238 cases from the 279 recorded last week.

The county has recorded a total of 4,903 cases since the pandemic began. There have been 77 hospitalizations and 67 deaths. 


Parsons Municipal Building

The second floor of the Parsons Municipal Building has been hit with COVID-19 and flu, City Manager Debbie Lamb reported at Thursday’s Parsons City Commission meeting; Lamb did not specify how many people were sick. She said that staff are wearing masks within the offices. 

“There currently is limited access on second floor,” Lamb said. “We have had a rash of sickness; part of it is COVID and part of it is the extreme flu. So what we are doing is the public, if they come in, they can go no farther than the glassed area. We come out, we talk to them.

“Basically, staff is doing what they can do by phone versus people in and out,” she added. 

Lamb said she believed two people who are on quarantine should be off this weekend. 

She said the city will continue to have staff wear masks for the additional five days following a quarantine period. 

Some of those with the flu, she said, are having trouble shaking it off. 

“Some of them … it’s taking them a while to shake that off,” she said. 

At the upcoming Parsons City Commission meeting Tuesday, the setup will be spread out as it was at the beginning of the pandemic. 

Mayor Leland Crooks suggested this idea; city officials said they will get that setup ready by Tuesday’s meeting. Crooks said he wanted to see that seating in place for another month to six weeks.

“I’d really like to see us do that,” he said. 

During his commission comments, Tom Shaw wished a speedy recovery to those who are sick. 

“I hope that everybody who’s ill gets well fast,” he said. 

Schools staying open

Labette County schools report they are safe for the time being and not closing because of the shortage of substitute teachers or illness. Some weeks teachers have had to use their planning time to teach an absent teacher’s class because there was no substitute to cover the class.

Winter break ended Jan. 4. Since then, positive COVID-19 cases have continued to rise.

Labette County USD 506’s website reported positive cases for Thursday were a total of 46 students and eight staff. 

On its Sept. 20 enrollment, Altamont reported 1,647 students at all six schools. USD 506 has moved to the new federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines of five days of isolation after COVID-19 infection followed by five days of masking upon the return to work.

Parsons USD 503 reported positive cases for Wednesday were 51 students and seven staff districtwide. Sept. 20 enrollment showed the district has 1,303 students. 

Superintendent Lori Ray said about a dozen of those cases ended quarantine Thursday morning, but there were reports of a few more students testing positive, so the number is always in flux. The district is still on the 10-day quarantine/isolation schedule so it appears to have more positive cases than other districts because the positive cases accumulate. The school board is meeting this week to discuss moving to the new CDC guidelines.


Hospital reports COVID numbers

Labette Health in its monthly report on COVID-19 case counts reported that the hospital had 28 patients admitted with COVID-19 between Dec. 11 and Monday. 

Of those, nine were vaccinated and 19 were not. These patients ranged in age from 38 to 90.

No patient with a COVID-19 booster shot was admitted in that time period. 

Ten COVID-19 patients were treated in ICU during that time and nine of them were unvaccinated.

In that same month, 11 COVID-19 patients died. These patients ranged in age from 58 to 88, according to hospital administration, and three of these had been vaccinated but had not received a booster.

Hospital staff has been impacted by COVID-19 as well, hospital administration reported. 

“We have 35 staff members out on quarantine or isolation,” Labette Health CEO Brian Williams said. The illnesses exacerbate staff shortages. He said the hospital follows the Kansas Department of Health and Environment guidelines for quarantine and isolation of health care workers. “We will start with a 10-day quarantine and adjust based on individual circumstances.”

Staff shortages at hospitals in the U.S. have created extraordinary circumstances. Some hospitals are allowing COVID-19 positive staff to stay or return to work if they have no symptoms or mild symptoms, according to national media reports.

Labette Health Quality Coordinator Rachel Merrick and Infection Preventionist Catrina Fickel said to date Labette Health has not had any staff members return to work with COVID-19 before the recommended 10-day isolation period.

“Although some departments are being affected more than others and modified quarantines are being discussed based on those staffing needs,” they said in an email correspondence.

Williams said the hospital has tried to maintain normal nurse-to-patient staffing ratios through the absences. But the hospital has had nursing aide and nursing shortages at times. 

“This seems to be most pronounced on evening shifts. We have asked nurses from the area to return and help pick up shifts, and most if not all of our nurses are taking extra shifts avoiding travelers (traveling nurses) not known to us,” Williams said.

Williams said many people who received the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters appear to be avoiding severe illness.

“Vaccines have clearly prevented morbidity and mortality,” Williams said. “The vaccine was never designed to prevent illness, just reduce the severity.”

Hospital clinics are experiencing a rise in COVID-19 testing. So hospital administration anticipates seeing a rise in case counts in the hospital in the coming weeks.

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