Commissioners declining to give federal CARES money to health department
oney from Platte County Health Department reserve funds will pay for at least another 30 days of free COVID-19 testing for Platte Countians.
That decision was made at a special meeting of the Platte County Health Department Board of Trustees last Wednesday.
Facing and end to free COVID-19 testing that had been in place due to a partnership with the University of Kansas Health System, and with the Platte County Commission to this point refusing to pass federal CARES funding to the health department, the board of trustees made the choice to dip into reserves.
“Because we haven’t received CARES funding, the board was faced with a decision to either charge the client for the lab cost, to stop testing, or to use funds held in reserve to pay for the testing,” explained Dan Luebbert, deputy director of the health department.
The 30-days of reserve-funded testing begins on Aug. 16 and runs for 30 days, after which the board will reassess the situation, Luebbert said. There is a regular board meeting scheduled for Sept. 15, at which another decision on how to handle testing costs seems likely, he indicated.
Platte County commissioners to this point have only approved grants to businesses with the $12.2 million in federal CARES dollars distributed to the county through the office of the state treasurer. The state treasurer had asked the county to pass along $6 million to Kansas City, based on the fact half of the county’s population is made up of residents of Kansas City. The commission has declined and has also declined to pass any dollars on to the health department or schools, etc.
Luebbert said it is hard to say how many tests the department might need over the course of the next 30 days.
“It depends somewhat on how the virus behaves, but I’d estimate 200 to 400 tests in the next 30 days,” he remarked.
The University of Kansas Health System, though no longer offering a free option, has agreed to give Platte County Health Department a discounted rate of $65 for COVID testing. Previous quoted pricing was $105.
“Of course the $65 does not include our HR costs and other allocated expenses,” Luebbert explained.
Last Thursday, Luebbert sounded optimistic about perhaps the county being at the beginning of a decline in COVID-19 cases. At that time, the positivity rate (percentage of those being tested whose result is positive) was 14.19%. The percent positive rate is based on a seven day moving average, Luebbert said.
But the newest percent positive rate announced for Monday, Aug. 10 was 15.69%. It was 16.15% on Aug. 3, so the percentage has not dropped by much in recent days.
It appears the percent positive rate in the county reached its highest point on July 19 at 17.31%. It dipped to 10.31% on July 28 but has been climbing since that time.
As a point of reference, many health experts recommend a local percent positive rate of below 5% before full in-person schooling is recommended, it was reported in last week’s health board meeting.
“Those who refuse to wear face coverings and physically distance are prolonging the pandemic,” Luebbert said.
“We have to depend on our residents and the people who are leaders in the community and model their behavior. When you see people in high leadership positions not respecting it, it’s going to be difficult to expect the general population to respect it. I think the more responsible behavior we see out of our community leaders, that number (the positivity rate) is going to drop. And if we are serious about getting things back to normal, that’s what it’s going to take,” Luebbert said during last week’s health board meeting.
In a conversation this week, Luebbert said the testing numbers “were doing pretty well for most of the second half of June. Then July happened. A lot of people threw caution to the wind, got together for Independence Day, traveled about the country and behaved like the pandemic was over.” This generated more cases throughout July and now into August.
“Now we’re dealing with the consequences of that behavior. If we want to get our kids back to in-person school, we need to be diligent about physical distancing and wearing face coverings,” Luebbert said Tuesday.
There have been 11 deaths and 36 hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in the Platte County Health Department’s jurisdiction. That does not include the Kansas City portion of Platte County.
With an eye toward schools scheduled to resume fall classes on Sept. 8, it might be interesting to note there have now been 36 cases in the age 10-19 age group. “Nearly all of those 36 have been added since July 1,” Luebbert said.
There have been five cases in the 0-9 age bracket.
In the 20-29 age group, there have been 70 cases. “And 54 of those have been added since July 1,” Luebbert continued.
Age 40-49 group with has the highest number of cases in the health department’s jurisdiction with 72 total cases.
Other total case numbers per age group in Platte County Health Department jurisdiction:
Age 50-59: 57
Age 30-39: 47
Age 60-69: 46
Age 80 +: 20
SYSTEM HAS BEEN KEY
Luebbert praised the partnership that the University of Kansas Health System has offered to the Platte County Health Department.
“They have been a wonderful partner for us. In addition to the fact they get results to us quickly, usually within 24 hours, their generosity in providing free lab services for testing to this point was extended to local health departments throughout the Kansas City area. KU’s donation of lab services, coupled with a donation of testing kits paid for by contributing companies, has been immeasurably helpful to health departments in the area,” Luebbert explained.
It appears the high regard is mutual. In a recent email obtained by The Landmark, Aaron Mulgrue, business operations manager for pathology and laboratory medicine in the University of Kansas Health System, recently told Mary Jo Everhart, Platte County Health Department director, “Our team has really enjoyed the partnership, as your team has been by far the best to work with.”
The partnership has been aided by the donation of testing kits paid for by the following:
Nathaniel Hagedorn, CEO of NorthPoint Development; Tyler Nottberg, CEO of US Engineering; Dave Cummings, CEO of Tradebot; Andy Deister, CEO of the Russell Stover Chocolate Company; and Taimoor Nana, CEO of MTAR LLC.
“But these companies can’t be expected to support testing indefinitely, especially when part of the CARES funding was intended for that purpose,” Luebbert stated.
As of Tuesday, Aug. 11, there have been 684 COVID-19 cases among Platte County residents.
That’s broken down this way: 385 in the Platte County Health Department jurisdiction and 299 in the portion of Platte County served by the Kansas City Health Department.
Zip codes in the Platte County Health Department jurisdiction with the most cases include:
64152 (Parkville): 145 cases.
64150 (Riverside): 95.
64079 (Platte City): 90.
64098 (Weston): 18.
64018 (Camden Point): 9.