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Local health officials are attempting to prevent COVID-19 from entering the county.

The Franklin County Health Department held an informational meeting Thursday morning to present facts about the disease, ways to combat it and why it is necessary to take steps before the virus hits an area.

Midge Ransom, Franklin County health department director, said protecting the elderly is a top priority.

“The vulnerable are those over the age of 60,” Ransom told a crowd of about 50 people in the Franklin County commission chambers. “That is where we are seeing the greatest deaths. People over the age of 70, 14% die that get the disease. It is a serious disease. That is our first goal. It takes all of us to protect them. More circles we put around them to protect them the better. Especially places like nursing homes, apartment complexes that have older individuals, other organizations that tend to the older population. As a community, how are we willing to change to move through this and protect everybody else? It takes each of us.”

Ransom said her office has been in contact with all of the area nursing homes. Rock Creek of Ottawa issued the following statement:

“Please know that we are taking every precaution to protect our current residents and staff. As part of our efforts, we will no longer accept visitors at this time.”

Ransom said another group to protect is health care workers.

“If we have community spread and goes the way it is going around the world, our health care workers are vital to this response,” she said.

Health officials are attempting to minimize social and economic disruption, Ransom said.

“Things are changing so rapidly across the United States,” she said. “We already feel it. We want to limit that. Another goal is to prevent panic. We have people that are very concerned. We don’t want you to panic. We want you aware, alert, prepare and then respond appropriately.”

Testing in Kansas is available for the coronavirus, Ransom said. She added that as of Wednesday night, 41 people in Kansas have been tested. Kansas health officials on Thursday announced three men in Johnson County had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and a man in his 70s in Wyandotte County has died. A sixth case was announced Friday morning.

Ransom said transmission of the disease can be rapid.

“One community member does not wash their hands and shares the virus with somebody at work and they share it with a family member,” she said. “You are just making it easier to get to the person we are trying to protect the most. Eighty percent have mild or moderate (form of the) illness. In many cases, will not be recognized. They won’t know they are sick, especially among children won’t recognize they are ill. If they are ill and don’t know it, it will be easier to spread it.”

Ransom said washing hands with warm water and soap is critical to keep from spreading the disease. She said hand sanitizer should not be used as a first response because it dries out hands, causes people to develop resistance to the germs and sanitizer does not work as well as people think.

Surfaces need to be disinfected thoroughly, she said.

“Clean surfaces before you disinfect them,” Ransom said. “If there is dirt on the surfaces, disinfectant won’t work. Leave it on for 10 minutes. Clean them frequently and don’t forget door handles, light switches, pens that the public may share.”

Ransom said Franklin County has eight people to monitor and manage disease control.

“That does not go very far if you get 10 or 20 people that have to be monitored every day,” she said. “At some point, it gets too big to handle. You see it in Washington and New York.”

She said there are four personal prevention practices: social distancing, cleaning, quarantine and isolation.

“Isolation is used when people are symptomatic,” Ransom said. “If you have a cough or tested and have the virus, you will be isolated, which means you will have no contact with other people in this case until you are well. And a certain period after that time. When people are in isolation, we need to help support them. They can’t go to the store or get their medication. They can’t go to work.”

Quarantine is for people who have been exposed but do not have symptoms and may not, she said.

“We are enforcing quarantine orders for people who come back from places where their is widespread community-acquired disease such as Italy, China and South Korea,” Ransom said. “We have places in the United States that are heavily community-spread like New York and Washington. Isolation just like quarantine can be legally enforced. Self-quarantine is when we voluntarily do that. If you are ill with coronavirus, it most likely will be a legal order through public health.”

She said keeping people from each other is big component in preventing the spread of any disease.

“Social distancing is what causes some of the social disruption, but it is extremely effective in limiting the spread of this disease,” Ransom said. “Sometimes they cancel church events or school. Maintaining a physical distance can be something you do on your own. Disease is spread through contact and sneezing. Keep an arms length away. Respect the fact that other people are not trying to be rude, we are trying to maintain social distance to prevent that spread.”

The health department’s webpage at will be updated with information on the level of risk and information.

“The rumor mill is alive and active,” Ransom said. There are all kinds of false information. We will have what our risk level is each day. In Kansas, we are lucky. The community spread is on the coasts right now. It does not mean it won’t get here. It is kind of questionable when it will.”