Public opinion is all over the place when it comes to the Dickinson County Health Order that mandates mask usage, limits on mass gathering sizes and other mitigation efforts aimed at controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus.
During the Jan. 28 meeting, the Dickinson County Commission extended the health order (with an adjustment that increased mass gathering sizes) an additional 45 days through March 18.
It was an action which made some happy and angered others, especially since earlier in the same meeting the Facebook group “Stand Up for Truth on COVID in Dickinson County” had just presented a 415-signature petition which, among other things, called for the removal of all mandates and public health orders related to COVID-19.
During the Thursday, Feb. 4 meeting Commission Chairman Lynn Peterson read three emails showing the range of sentiment.
One correspondent, who said she was a newer Dickinson County resident, stated she was “truly perplexed” by the antics demonstrated by certain members of the community.
She hoped the group “does not represent the majority of the county in these unprecedented times” and asked the commission to “continue to make decisions based on facts, science and the safety of all.”
Another correspondent -- using the subject line “please do not censor your citizens” -- sent an article which asserts that most COVID-19 deaths could have been prevented if Vitamin D was used more widely.
And a third email came from an angry business owner that stated, “What the hell is wrong with you guys?” berating them for a lack of “common sense” and ending with the comment, “Guessing you all voted for Biden.”
Since early December, commission meetings and work sessions are now well attended -- albeit online -- and public comments are heard from people who typically ask for the removal of the mask mandate and other restrictions.
For the most part, residents in favor of masks and mandates do not make their feelings known during the public meetings, but do so through emails or on social media posts.
Abilene resident Rhonda Beaupre, who presented the petition, said residents had complied with the commission’s requirements for public comments and asked why commissioners had not responded to questions and requests.
“It seems like we’re being ignored,” Beaupre said.
For instance, one petition request wants school personnel classified as “essential” to expedite their access to vaccinations and eliminate them from quarantines if they were exposed to COVID.
“I would like to have an answer -- Please,” she said.
Peterson replied that just because the commission may not have an answer or information, that does not mean solutions are not being discussed.
“Obviously your expectation level is it’s a check list: Yes, we did this; no we didn’t do this; yes, this is what our timeline is. But all in all, there’s discussions taking place that are gravitating and moving towards various directions and we’re considering some of that.”
As far as the schools, County Administrator Brad Homman said he and Health Department Director John Hultgren have been discussing levels of quarantine with the county health officer.
“For lack of a better term, we are trying to amend that a little. It’s a little bit of a slippery slope depending on the issues involved, so we are working on that. As far as criteria for schools and classifying school staff as essential, we have done that,” Homman said, explaining Dickinson County has moved them into Phase 1 for COVID vaccinations.
However, he and Hultgren decided the first vaccines should be given to people 80 years and older who are the “really critically exposed members of society that typically are going to die if they get COVID,” Homman said.
“Then we would move to (age) 65 and above as well as school staff,” he said.
Another consideration -- when school administrators were contacted early on about the vaccine, they reported only 40 to 50 percent of school staff were willing to take it.
“We took that to mean they don’t feel like it’s as important as we felt like it was,” he added. “Maybe that will change when we get it available.”
Another problem limiting vaccinations has been too few doses. Homman said the state has not provided the county the number of vaccines requested. The county has only received 200 to 300 doses a week -- despite requesting two and three times that amount -- which makes it difficult to vaccinate a substantial number of residents.
Without knowing how many vaccines will actually arrive, scheduling is difficult.
“We are restricted by the number of vaccines we get in,” Homman added.
The county also has been sending a portion of the vaccines to Kay’s Pharmacy in Herington to give inoculations to people in the southern part of the county, Homman said. Also, the county is working with Heartland Health Care Clinic in Abilene to vaccinate some of the 80-plus and 65-plus age groups.
Peterson noted the commission has been responsive and has amended the health order as fewer restrictions are needed, commenting that they planned to exempt religious organizations later in the meeting (see story in Feb. 5 issue).
County resident Laurie Megan Armstrong told commissioners that Dickinson County’s COVID-19 numbers are beginning to decrease.
“Hopefully, in a few more weeks we will be well below that 10 percent positivity rate we want to see,” Armstrong said.
With the declining numbers, Armstrong asked if the commission would make inquiries about a reopen time for the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.
“I’ve heard a lot of feedback from businesses here locally that the Eisenhower Center being closed is just slaughtering business,” Armstrong said.
Peterson noted he had talked to Sen. Jerry Moran about the closed facility months ago, but had not made any inquiries recently. Peterson said he believes the closure was a National Archives decision, but said the Truman complex in Missouri might have reopened.
Armstrong said four or five reopened in September 2020, but were closed again in October during COVID spikes.
She believes the National Archives has set threshold numbers which she believes Dickinson County could meet.
Peterson agreed, noting that reopening the Eisenhower complex is important for local businesses. Not only is it a tourist attraction, the educational component for students and researchers also is important.
“The first place to start is with the local people here (Eisenhower staff) and see what pathway they have in mind for that,” Peterson said. “I think that would be worthy of discussion and follow up.”
Contact Kathy Hageman at email@example.com.