Congressman Dr. Roger Marshall gets first-hand look at rapid testing in Seward County
As part of assisting with community testing efforts for COVID-19 in Southwest Kansas, Kansas First District Congressman Dr. Roger Marshall was in Liberal Wednesday to observe and help with local efforts.
Marshall’s first stop was at the Seward County Ag Building before going to the Seward County Health Department, National Beef and Southwest Medical Center.
Marshall said the efforts going on at the Ag Building have been part of what he called an incredible job.
“It’s one of the best organized situations I’ve seen, mass testing, using local people to solve the problem, the National Guard working with the health department, working with county officials to make that all hum pretty good,” he said.
Marshall said local health leaders and those on hand from the National Guard to do testing of employees at National Beef have a good system in place.
“They’re getting results back within 15 minutes for all the employees who work at National Beef,” he said. “The other folks, I think they’re getting results back within 24 to 36 hours. A month ago, it was taking five to seven days to get results back.”
The National Guard is working with SCHD on tracing, as contacts of those confirmed positive with COVID-19 are tracked down to put into quarantine, get tested and medical attention as necessary. Marshall said the health department’s efforts were good in this regard.
“They’re thinking about our next steps, and what else do we need to do,” he said.
Marshall said he does not think major testing sites need to be open for much longer.
“I think once they get to the major load, where’s a COVID clinic that’s going to be in town, a clinic where you can go to be tested and maybe get a little health exam as well if necessary,” he said. “I think that’s the next piece of the puzzle for the community. Where’s a COVID clinic going to be?”
As for the National Beef company itself, Marshall said leaders and employees at the Liberal plant are doing an outstanding job, with efforts focused on employee safety and coronavirus prevention, as well as food safety.
“The good news is they practice a lot of these things already,” he said. “Food safety is really a huge step towards infectious disease control, so they’re used to washing their hands 20 times a day, but what they’ve added is the social distancing between people. They have at least six feet between all their employees. They’ve got masks on. They’ve got plexiglass between them. I truly think it’s riskier to walk into Walmart than it is to work out there at this point in time. I think they’re doing a super job out there.”
Marshall said he thinks many people take what companies like National Beef do for granted.
“They don’t understand how important the food processing, the packing plants are to the rest of the country, that 20 percent of the beef in this country is processed right here in Southwest Kansas,” he said. “That’s why President Trump made this a critical business to keep open using the Defense Act to rally some more resources down here.”
At SWMC, Marshall said some patients are being seen in the ICU department and the emergency room. During his visit Wednesday, a couple were admitted to the ICU, and he said hospital officials are working on strategies to help with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What if?” he said. “What if it gets worse? Do they have enough manpower?”
As part of that strategy, Marshall said hospital leaders are trying to get a few more ventilators and more personal protective equipment, as well as other items to help with the pandemic.
“A great group of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists there, so I think we’re in good shape,” he said. “They may get overworked and underpaid, but I think they’ve got the nucleus to be able to handle this problem.”
Marshall said a couple of weeks ago, he got calls from a few fellow doctors in Dodge City regarding coronavirus concerns.
“They were concerned they were about to have an uptick there,” he said. “I was able to call the Secretary of Agriculture’s office that afternoon. They called the White House, and within 24 hours, we had a commitment from the White House to get these testing facilities set up, to get the testing supplies we needed, as well as the protective equipment.”
The same day, Marshall said he was able to call a lab corp and get a commitment for 6,000 test kits for the next day as well.
“It’s a great example of the private sector working with the federal government to get the job done,” he said. “The story behind the story behind the story is way back in February when President Trump realized the CDC was having a little hiccup and not being able to give us the testing, he started a meeting with the private sector, and I started having phone calls with the private sectors and saying ‘What do we need to do to get ramped up?’”
Marshall said if this had not taken place, those 6,000 tests could never have been available for pickup the next day.
“Here we are on the ascending part of the curve of COVID,” he said. “I’m afraid it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and I’m just trying to make sure that you all, that we all have the resources we need to take care of people.”
Today, Governor Laura Kelly is scheduled to make an announcement regarding extending her stay at home order. When deciding this, Marshall believes government officials need to figure out a way to safely and responsibly open business back up “
“What’s going on in Johnson County and Sedgwick County is not the same thing that’s going on here,” he said referring to Southwest Kansas. “Last I checked, they’ve only had a handful of cases in Wichita in the last week. I’m expecting her to give some flexibilities to counties to start safely, responsibly opening again, but I’m certainly not recommending that for Southwest Kansas.”
Marshall said an eye also needs to be kept on funding coming out of Washington D.C. in terms of COVID-19 relief.
“The $19 billion for agriculture is what we’re really waiting on to see what that looks like, waiting for Secretary Perdue to show us the plan for that,” he said. “I’m thinking next week, we’re going to see what his plan is for that. Going forward, I really think we all need to take a deep breath. We just spent $3 trillion, a half a trillion dollars on health care alone. The small business loan is rolling out very successfully. I think we need to see where we are. The most important thing we can do, phase four, is getting America open for business again. That’s what phase four has to be, and I’m afraid if Congress gets their eye off that ball, it’s going to distract from safely opening America again.”
When the pandemic ends and life begins to take place as it had prior to COVID-19, Marshall said he believes a new normal will be established, and some of the practices established during the pandemic may have to continue for some time.
“I think the social distancing is going to have to continue until we have everybody vaccinated,” he said. “I think this concept of washing your hands, staying home if you’re sick and more testing. If you’re sick before you go to work, you’re going to have to be tested. We’ve all been to work. We’ve got a little fever. We’ve got a little sniffle, but I think the new normal going forward is getting a test done that shows it’s not COVID.”
Marshall said current circumstances are fortunate in that the only cause of fever at this time is coronavirus.
“The Influenza A and B, we’re way past the peak season of that,” he said. “Right now, if you’ve got a fever, you’ve got strep throat, an earache, something like that. I think part of the new normal is continuing this social distancing.”
Whether it’s a new normal or the old one, Marshall, like many, is ready to move past the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m a caged animal,” he said jokingly. “I miss my sports. Fortunately, I do a lot of hunting and fishing outside by myself. I do a lot of walking on the river by myself. Those are things I normally do, so I’m able to get some relief through that, but I’m ready, but most importantly is the health and safety of Kansans.”