MMH receives 100 COVID-19 testing kits; County seeks Safer at Home waiver

Melissa Memorial Hospital recently applied and was approved to become a community testing site for COVID-19. As a result, CEO Cathy Harshbarger said, the hospital received 100 testing kits funded by the State to start the process.

The first day of drive-up testing was scheduled for May 20 with the capacity to handle 50 tests. Plans are still being made for additional testing opportunities. Once the first 100 kits have been used, Harshbarger said, MMH will be able to order another 100.

On the state level, Gov. Jared Polis announced this week that Colorado reached an important goal. Testing capacity has increased to allow for free testing of all symptomatic individuals.

“Getting tested is a crucial part of our response to this virus, and I’m proud to say that any Coloradan who is showing symptoms can and should get tested,” said Polis.

Colorado can now test:

— Any individual who has COVID-19 symptoms.

— Any individual who is employed as a health care worker, nursing home worker or first responder.

— Any essential worker who directly interacts with the public while working, per state or employer guidelines.

The Division of Insurance has directed Colorado-regulated insurance plans not to charge copays for testing, and Medicaid patients can also get tested without cost. For individuals without insurance, community testing sites can send samples to the state lab, and the State will cover the cost.

For drive-up testing through MMH, those who wish to be tested must have symptoms of COVID-19 such as a cough or fever. Harshbarger said that the hospital is exploring the possibility of asymptomatic testing in certain circumstances.

Separate from that COVID-19 testing, MMH is also now offering antibody testing, which isn’t free and requires an order from a provider. The test determines a person’s level of resistance, or immune response, to COVID-19.


County looks to loosen restrictions

While in-person dining, church services and the like are still suspended in the state of Colorado under Safer at Home, Phillips County has applied for a waiver to allow for fewer restrictions to businesses and individuals in the county.

Terry Hofmeister, chairman of the board of county commissioners, explained that Phillips County is on its third try to submit a plan that will be approved by the State.

The first attempt, submitted two weeks ago, was returned. Almost every waiver in the state required adjustments at that point, Hofmeister said. Phillips County added suppression plans from both Holyoke and Haxtun hospitals as well as trigger points, and the waiver was resubmitted last week.

Harshbarger noted that the MMH suppression plan outlines such things as the level of protective equipment required for treating certain types of patients. It also dictates that when elective surgeries begin again, those patients will be tested for COVID-19 prior to surgery. Such procedures may be limited again if there is a surge in hospital patients as defined in the suppression plan.

Some aspects of the suppression plan have already been in place. For example, everyone must wear a mask at all times, and markers on the floor indicate 6 feet of social distancing. Only two doors are open for entry to MMH, everyone is screened before entering, and visitation is limited.

On Saturday, May 16, commissioners were told that the County’s plan needed more detail on trigger points, which will indicate whether stricter guidelines need to be readopted in the future. The hope is that the third iteration of the waiver will be approved. So far, Sedgwick County is one of the few counties in the state to receive a waiver.

Hofmeister emphasized that there has not been a waiver approved for Phillips County. There have, however, been instances when commissioners have helped determined whether something is allowed by the State. The May 9 cruise night in Holyoke, for example, was within existing guidelines, but commissioners were in communication with the health department to provide guidance to the community and confirm that the event was allowed.

Until otherwise announced, residents should continue to wear face coverings whenever they’re in public, avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, keep 6 feet away from others and stay home as much as possible.


State announces grantees, executive orders

On May 18, the Colorado COVID Relief Fund announced its third round of grants given to Colorado organizations working with those who have been impacted by the coronavirus. Phillips County received $25,000 for its secondary food assistance program. County commissioners were scheduled to discuss its use at their May 19 meeting.

Polis also recently extended the executive order that workers in critical businesses and critical government functions wear face coverings while at work and while serving the public through June 15.

Two new executive orders concerning signature collection for ballot issues and for unaffiliated and independent candidates were signed by Polis on May 15.

“This is a challenging time for Colorado, but we must not sacrifice our democracy and the right of citizens to petition due to the pandemic. Protecting our democracy, access to the ballot and making sure citizens can qualify ballot measures and can qualify as candidates to run for office during this time is critical,” said Polis.

One order authorizes the secretary of state to create temporary rules for registered electors to receive and return issue petitions over mail or email. The other temporarily suspends the requirement that electors sign petitions for unaffiliated and independent candidates in the presence of a petition circulator.

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