The free COVID-19 mass testing planned tomorrow (Saturday) at the National Guard Armory in Abilene is for people who live or work in Dickinson County that are experiencing symptoms or been exposed to someone who has tested positive.

“If you’re doing fine, haven’t been exposed and don’t have any symptoms this isn’t the clinic for you,” said County Administrator Brad Homman said. “We want to preserve these test kits for people who have been exposed or had symptoms of COVID.”

County Administrator Brad Homman told county commissioners Thursday that the decision to hold the clinic is due to the COVID spike currently being seen in the county.

“Because of the sheer numbers — the hospital is only able to test 40 people a day because of restrictions on staffing,” Homman explained.

Initially, the county checked with the state to see if a mobile lab could be brought in for testing, but state personnel said it had not been done before, would take at least 7 to 10 days and National Guard and medical staff would have to be called in.

“We don’t have seven to 10 days to wait, so given the situation and since we had declared community spread, we’re going to do it ourselves,” Homman said, speaking of the mass testing.

Chancy Smith, county emergency management director, obtained 1,000 tests kits, gloves, personal protective equipment and everything needed to conduct mass testing from the Kansas Department of Emergency Management.

The mass testing is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26 at the Armory, located at 1009 N.W. Eighth in Abilene.

“Between the Armory and Sterl Hall we will run a three-lane drive-thru clinic. You’ll never leave your car and get tested for COVID,” Homman said. “It’s going to be a challenge to do a thousand in four hours, but we’ll do as many as we can. Chances are we won’t stop until we’re done.”

When the clinic is over, Homman said the tests will be taken to a lab in Topeka that afternoon so results can be returned as soon as possible. Afterwards, staff will make phone calls to people who were tested and notify them of the results.

Community spread

For months, Dickinson County had a minimal number of COVID-19 cases.

“Now, we’re seeing over 15 cases a day. In the last five days it’s jumped up considerably,” Homman said. “Hopefully, people can continue to use caution and we can get a handle on it, but it’s not looking very positive.”

On Tuesday, the sheer volume of contact tracing lead local health officials to declare a “community spread” situation, Homman said.

Community spread is new cases that cannot be traced back to a known positive case of COVID-19.

Because of the increase in positive cases, the Dickinson County Health Department has enlisted the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) to assist in case management and contact tracing.

That assistance helped free up local health department staff so they can help with Saturday’s mass testing and do other things.

With many cases showing up in schools, all Abilene Public Schools moved to remote learning until Oct. 5 and Chapman High and Middle schools will do remote learning through Oct. 8.

Chapman’s elementary attendance centers are still open.

“That’s why some of the plans we worked with originally dealt with cohort groups and attendance centers. We didn’t want to be forced into shutting down the whole district when they’ve got multiple attendance centers,” Homman said.

Of the five Dickinson County school districts, Abilene and Chapman have been most affected from COVID-19.

The smaller districts have not seen the high numbers seen at the two largest districts. Homman said Solomon has had five cases of people either quarantined or positive; Herington had three or so and Hope only had a couple.

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