Community partners give updates on response to COVID-19

Thursday, April 23, 2020

In their weekly scheduled conference call Wednesday morning, community leaders and partners gave updates on meaures being taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vernon County Health Department

The Vernon County Health Department gave a brief update on cases of COVID-19 in the community. “We still just have the three cases, and actually we talked to their provider this morning. They have recovered and all three have been released from isolation,” stated a representative with the health department.

Editor's Note: After the conference call, the Vernon County Health Department released that there has been an additional confirmed case of COVID-19 in the county as of Wednesday. This brings the total number of confirmed cases to four, with three of those being recovered.

Nevada Regional Medical Center

“We've done about 100 tests and we've had the two positives,” stated Nevada Regional Medical Center C.E.O Steve Branstetter. Those positive cases were two of the three the Vernon County Health Department had reported. “We've had about 98 negatives,” continued Branstetter. “We are adjusting to having a surge plan and then having a kind of reopening plan. We've been talking about getting our business back up with elective procedures, surgeries, and that type of stuff. We're not they're yet. We're kind of following the guidelines with phase 1.” NRMC has recently loosened up their visitor policy, now allowing one visitor per day, per patient.

Heartland Behavioral Health Services

“We've had no positive tests as of today,” stated Heartland Behavioral Health Services C.E.O Alyson Harder. “We currently don't have any of our patients in isolation or the negative pressure rooms. We're looking to potentially find ways to increase patient load while still trying to closely manage and monitor potential risk. One of the things we are asking for from the state is continued feedback on the potential for a rapid response testing possibility. Since we're considered more of a long-term treatment care option, (we have the propensity for a large volume of patients and employees being affected very quickly), we are hoping that the state of Missouri will have those available.”

After the healthcare providers gave their updates, Interim City Manager Mark Mitchell noted the state had mentioned that they had machines that would do a 20 minute test. “Have you heard any word from the state level whether Vernon County will receive those or not?” Mitchell asked the providers. Branstetter and Harder both stated they had not heard any word on the machines, but they would have a call with the governor later in the afternoon and they may know more by then. “That's one of my questions as well,” stated Harder. “One of the things that they're indicating is that not necessarily Vernon County by county would get it, but it would be maybe potentially regionally located where a team could be sent to a long-term care facility or a hospital environment where there is more communal living to do those. That's my understanding.” Emergency Management Director Derik White echoed this. “From my governor's call yesterday I was on, the way it sounds is that it will be centrally located from a region or certain area,” he stated. “Then, they will have teams that can be dispatched if they think they have a case in our area to help isolate that area.”

Vernon County Commission

“The order that the Vernon County Health Department, County Commission, and the City currently has in place expires this Saturday morning at 12:01 a.m.,” stated Presiding Commissioner Joe Hardin. “The feeling that I get from Mr. Durnell (Steve Durnell, Administrator with the Vernon County Health Department) — and I'm going to support him as our health leader in his decisions — at this point he is more than likely going to let our order expire and simply follow the guidelines of the state of Missouri at this time. As of yesterday afternoon (Tuesday) when he and I last spoke, that is the direction in which he and his board members are leaning.”

On the state level, Hardin spoke to Rep. Patricia Pike Tuesday evening, as well as Wednesday morning. “We all know that the 2021 budget is going to be very slim,” Hardin stated. “They're already prepping us for that. The state is anticipating about $1 billion loss of income this year and that will affect some of our districts and all of our taxing entities. They plan on having some special sessions next year and, for lack of a better term, rat holing some federal funds to offset and rebuild the budget going into 2022. So they're looking 18 months, at least, in advance which you have to do.”

In addition, Hardin went on to state, “This will come out more officially later and it is subject to change at the governor's request or order, but Vernon County is scheduled to get $2.4 million worth of funding to help with COVID-19 relief. The way it was worded to me through representative was that is going to be for taxing entities. Those payments will start coming on May 4, so I'm trying to get ahead of it a little bit.” Hardin stated there were still some questions needing to be answered in regards to reimbursing non-taxing entities for their efforts in COVID-19 relief, as well as what kind of requests can be made. Some of these questions, according to Hardin, could hopefully be answered during a call with the treasurer's office later that afternoon.

Emergency Management

Emergency Management Director Derik White stated the only update he has at this time is that they are still waiting on masks and the state is still trying to get some in. “All the masks that we had ordered statewide, all the money was refunded back to the state,” noted White. “They are in the process of getting those masks delivered as soon as they get them.”

City of Nevada

“We put together a plan, but we're holding that back to see what the governor will do,” stated Mitchell. “I figured that he would have some direction given to our communities by now, but I think they're going to plan ahead for that. So, we're holding our plan off on how to reopen until we see what the governor has in store for us and we will follow his plan. With that being said, there is a huge push from the community to get back to the way we were. I caution everyone on that. We're not out of the woods and I just want all the community leaders to know that we need to work together to make sure we keep our community safe. I know on behalf of the mayor and the city council, that's their desire as well.” Hardin echoed this sentiment as well. “Even though the health department's order is maybe going to expire, we can put that back in place at any given time if we let it expire,” Hardin noted. “We are not out of the woods and I hope that we're all aware of that. There is a push to get back to what we think will be normal, though there will never be a normal like what we had before.”

Nevada/Vernon County Chamber of Commerce

“I found a great 'frequently asked questions' for guidance because I'm getting a lot of phone calls from businesses about the county order expiring and what that pertains to,” stated Chamber Director Sheree Gayman. “I found a great site on the governor's webpage that really depicts all the questions that I'm being asked by the businesses and I'm putting that together in an email to send out as soon as I know whether or not the county order is going to expire. That way people know exactly what the governor's orders states.”

Nevada Housing Authority

“We will continue to approach cautiously as we look to make changes based on the state order,” stated Nevada Housing Authority Director Carol Branham. “We are still getting lots of applications from people outside this area. We are still on a 'no visitor' policy within our units. We have to continue to control to protect the 200 units and our tenants, as well as our staff. We will follow the orders, but we may put in place some phasing as we move forward.”

On My Own, Inc.

“We are still being restricted from the state in terms of how we are to operate, so our office is still closed to the public unless it's by appointment,” stated On My Own, Inc. Executive Director Jennifer Gundy. “Our In-Home services we are still operating and going into the homes, but other programs, groups, and classes and things like that are still on hold until further notice.” The restrictions Gundy mentioned have to do with the state contract that On My Own, Inc. has for their Medicaid programs from Department of Health and Senior Services for Consumer Directed Services and In-Home services, as well as Vocational Rehabilitation with their Center for Independent Living. Touching on what these restrictions include, Gundy noted, “We are to limit our face-to-face contact if possible. So, case management services are being completed by phone. We are checking on our consumers on a regular basis to make sure they are healthy and that they don't have any needs not being met. With our In-Home program, we are still doing nursing visits and In-Home aide care. We are using PPE (personal protective equipment) and taking daily temperatures of staff.”

West Central

A representative from West Central stated, “Our Nevada office is still closed and we are still working from home at this time.”

United Way

“We are in and out of the office every day,” stated Peggy Tedlock. “People can leave messages. We've had a lot of calls to make referrals.” United Way's next board meeting will be held next Wednesday via teleconference. “I think there's a lot of people that still aren't taking it as seriously as they should be,” noted Tedlock in regards to people's response to COVID-19. “If you of anyone, they not like it, but just remind them about it. I think sometimes you get a little comfortable with it and then you forget about it. I think people are doing better.”

Osage Prairie YMCA

Jeff Snyder with the YMCA stated, “We've started conversations about what our re-entry or reopening looks like. We're getting a lot of questions because of the President's phases. Gyms are within that Phase 1, but obviously we're going to proceed very cautiously. There's still some very strict social distancing guidelines we would be expected to follow, even if we are operational. We're still trying to evaluate what our capacity is to meet those – whether it's temperature checks and those different things prior to allowing people to come in. I still believe that the 10 person guideline will be in effect. We're really kind of looking at May 4 and it will probably just be our fitness center. We could still potentially move that back as well.”

Neal Center

“We continue to deliver meals,” noted Senior Center Director Mike Parson. “We, of course, are not open to the public but we are continuing to deliver meals both to our regular customers as well as a lot of people that we picked up through the emergency services for COVID-19. To protect both our customers and our drivers, we have cut back on the number of days that we deliver. Also, each time a driver comes in to deliver we take their temperature and they have to answer a questionnaire. So, we're doing what we can to protect both the drivers and very vulnerable customers that we serve.”

Cottey College

“We are continuing to be as cautious as possible here on campus,” stated Vice President of Student Life Landon Adams. “We've pushed back some events in the summer and are currently in discussions about what our fall could look like. We've continued to limit staff and student movement on campus.”

Nevada R-5 School District

“We are just waiting to hear back from DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) as far as summer school goes and we are trying to get our plans finalized for some of our typical spring activities with graduation, prom, etc., and hope to announce some dates in the near future,” stated Nevada R-5 Superintendent Tyson Beshore.


Steve Russ with LifeWalk Church gave some updates on what the church's plans are going forward. “In the faith community there's some interesting discussions on whether to meet or not and the right of a church to meet — those kinds of things. I think our group feels like we want to be the good community partner. We realize we could have 300 to 350 together at one time and there's been up in Wyandotte County these clusters from churches that started services. We don't want to be one of those, so we want to be very cautious in how we get back. We have a building we're renovating that will probably be ready at the end of May or early June that we'd like to get into, but we have an online experience that's working pretty well so we'll just take it week by week and see how it goes.”

Pine Street Baptist Church

“We've been listening to the governor on his call that he was with us on Fridays,” stated Pine Street Baptist Church Pastor Chad Bailey. “His ideal plan for the church is to be opened by the Sunday of Mother's Day, cautiously. We're trying to communicate that with the churches and we're talking together about what that looks like and how we can do that while maintaining social distancing within the church. I think most people are looking forward to getting back in church, but they also know that we have to be cautious in how we do it. We have to be very careful. Speaking in regards to the local homeless population, Bailey stated, “With shelters, I know our shelter is full. I have had an increase in phone calls for sheltering. I know this has affected that to some degree, not enormously, but I know there have been a few extra calls coming in on people looking for places to stay. For the most part, I think they are getting help. I know Ministerial Alliance has housed several transient people coming through town over the last two or three weeks, but not more than normal. It's been about the same.”

Wood's Supermarket

“We're still following the guidelines,” stated Jason Woods. “We do have some equipment for all of our employees now — masks, gloves, and those types of things if they want to wear them. We should have sneeze guards for our registers sometime this week or early next week. I think we're going to permanently have those up, so we'll be ready for whatever decisions that are made.”


“We're releasing information as we're getting it,” stated Owner of KNEM/KNMO Radio Station Mike Harbit.

Nevada Daily Mail

“We are doing just fine,” stated Publisher Lorie Harter. “We're prepared — of course, cautiously — to move forward. We're here for the community with any information we can disseminate.”

Vernon County Economic Development

Ben Vickers with Vernon County Economic Development stated that he is “working on business retention and expansion, as well as brainstorming new ways to revitalize the community after all this is over.”

Mitchell then closed the teleconference. “On behalf of the city council, the mayor, and our county commissioners, we want to thank all the community leaders for what you've done in the past and what you will continue to do in the future,” he stated. “As a community, I'm proud of what we have done and I'm proud of the innovation of our restaurants, businesses, our schools, and all the agencies and organizations throughout the city. I applaud each and every one of you. You're keeping our community safe, and for that I'm very grateful.”

Additional Comments – Steve Durnell

Vernon County Health Department Administrator Steve Durnell took time following the conference call to answer some of the Daily Mail's questions surrounding the possible expiration of the county stay-at-home order. “First and foremost, even if we allow our order to expire this weekend, we can and will, put it back in place if the Health Department and other community leaders feel that it is necessary to help reduce the spread of COVID-19,” stated Durnell. “This decision will be highly dependent on future positive COVID-19 cases.” Durnell went on to state, “Our local order is very similar to the governor's order. There are a few differences between our order and the governor's order, but the basic core public health principals are present in both orders. One reason, we have elected at this time to allow our order to expire, is it is difficult and confusing to try to follow two orders that are slightly different. We can have a local order as long as it is as strict as the state order, but if the state order is a workable, effective initiative that is working at our local level then it is simpler to follow one order, rather than having two we are trying to mesh together. There are many things that go along with an order. Including the safe and gradual aspect of opening the community back up. I think the Governor will begin addressing this. This is a very complicated process that involves many aspects that would take pages to explain. Just some of the factors include adequate testing availability, PPE supplies, and many other dynamics.” Durnell stressed that this is an ever-evolving situation and could change at any time. “Last Thursday, our Health Department Board met and at that time, decided it was in the county's best interest to follow the governor's order and allow ours (the county order) to expire,” noted Durnell “This order is a joint order with the Vernon County Commission, as well as with incredible support from the City of Nevada and community leaders. I have worked closely with presiding commissioner Joe Hardin and City Manager Mark Mitchell. I cannot express my appreciation of these individuals as well as many, many others. From the way our medical providers have provided us with information, with community leaders taking steps to ensure their levels of expertise are utilized and relayed to us and their audiences, to the general public doing their part in keeping us healthy and safe, to the school administration in making the incredibly difficult decisions regarding classes, and even to you (Daily Mail) for providing us a platform to keep the public informed on this pandemic.” In regards to the Vernon County Health Department staff, Durnell noted, “They have been nothing short of amazing. I put a lot of responsibilities on them, so I am very proud of our Health Department and most importantly the ladies I rely on to do our part to protect and inform the community.”

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