Getting back to COVID normal

May 26, 2020
In The News

Patrons filled their own soft drinks again Friday.

Many rode the Abilene and Smoky Valley Train.

Visitors petted Ginger at the Greyhound Hall of Fame.

Some went out to eat at area restaurants that allowed indoor seating along with carryout.

Dickinson County opened up, with caution, Friday at the start of the Memorial Day weekend.

Mark Augustine, owner of the 24/7 Travel Store on North Buckeye Avenue, was glad to see customers again.

During the eight weeks that customers couldn’t get fountain drinks, employees acted as servers at 24/7 and delivered those drinks with ice.

“We’re glad that is over. We wanted to give customers what they wanted,” Natalie Dick, store manager, said of providing the serve.

“At some point we will be allowed to do it but we have not chosen to do that yet,” Augustine said

The store is still not doing self-serve food. The attached Arby’s was selling through the drive through.

The lack of business at 24/7, Love’s Travel Stops and area attractions will result in less tax income for Abilene and Dickinson County.

RV park on hold

Triplitt Inc., which recently remodeled the Abilene Store and has plans to open an RV Park, has put many renovation and expansion plans on hold. The company had plans for renovations for travel stores in Colby, Goodland, Hays and Russell. 

“We haven’t developed that yet,” Augustine said of the RV park. “We put that on hold, too. With the downturn in business, we just wanted to reserve out capital.”

Augustine said gasoline dropped 40 percent on gallon sales and store sales were similar. Even though trucking supplies remained steady, diesel sales dropped 10 percent.

Still, the Abilene 24/7 Travel Store remained open literally 24/7.

Several steps were taken to protect customers and employees.

Customers from Florida, Texas and California stopped in.

“We get them from all over the country,” Dick said of customers.

That is a concern for her and fellow employees.

“We know we have to sanitize. We did it consistently,” Dick said.

Plexaglass screens were installed so employees could scan items without touching them.

“People have been good,” Dick said. 

“It’s nice to see that people are out today, traveling,” Augustine said. “It will reflect at the pump eventually.”

He said gasoline prices, which were the lowest in the nation in Abilene for awhile, will continue to bounce up and down. 

Utilizing the Paycheck Protection Program, Triplett was able to maintain employees at the 10 stores in Kansas.

U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Great Bend, who stopped in Abilene Friday, also said it was nice to see people getting out. 

“The biggest concern I have now is the loneliness out there, the emotional scarring. I’m concerned about poverty related illnesses and just the economic crisis,” Marshall said. “We have to get Kansas safely, responsibly back open for business.”

Marshall, wearing a mask, said Kansas can open back up.

“I’m trying to paint this picture across Kansas and places that I visit that are taking the necessary steps to function in a COVID environment,” he said.

Marshall said Kansas has to figure out how to get the students back to school in the fall. 

Beef packing

Marshall recently returned from Western Kansa where COVID-19 positives soared at the beef packing plants. He said a number of reasons led to the outbreaks. 

“Certainly, if you are still less than six feet from a person all day long, you are going to be at risk,” he said. “Number one, I think the packing plants have done everything that is humanly possible. They have hand sanitizers all over the place. They take temperatures in the morning, they check them at lunch time. They have face shields and plexiglass between them.”

But often the packing plant workers are multi-generational families living together in a small environment. One may be working in a beef packing plant in Oklahoma and one in Dodge City, he said.

“You can just see this spreading from one packing plant to the other,” he said. “It’s all of the above things. They are working in close proximity and then they are living in close proximity. I think there were some social barriers that we couldn’t communicate to say, ‘Look, there is one person in your household that has the virus. We don’t want you to go to church tomorrow. We don’t want you to go to work tomorrow. It just took a week or two to get on top of that.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention went to the plants to provide guidance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided supplies to assistant the plants. 

Marshall, a physician from Great Bend who went to Liberal to assist in the Intensive Care Unit, said he reached out to the White House task force to get testing supplies. 

“We went from 10 tests a day to 150 a day,” Marshall said. 

He said the White House provided ventilators as well. 

Marshall said he actually sent a photograph of him and staff working in the ICU to present to Donald Trump, requesting more personal protective equipment.

“Sunday afternoon we received a message from the White House: ‘PPE is on its way,’” he said. 

The packing plant employees recovering from COVID-19 have recovered well, he said.

“Despite 3,000 infections, I think there have been only 50 or 60 people admitted (to the. hospital)” he said. “Over the past week, it has really slowed down.”

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