Local Health Departments in Kansas Struggled to Get the Tools for the Frontline Coronavirus Fight

The coronavirus pandemic shut down non-essential businesses in Kansas for more than a month. Photo courtesy of Brian Grimmett, Kansas News Service

Originally written by Celia Llopis-Jepsen for the Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — County health departments in Kansas lacked the resources and manpower to swiftly ramp up “boots-on-the-ground” work when the coronavirus pandemic hit, new research suggests.

The work by researchers at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita sheds light on the state’s preparedness for the pandemic. Local health departments do much of the frontline work gathering test samples from sick people and tracking down others who may have been exposed.

“It all comes down to what we can do for the county health departments,” said Talkad Raghuveer,a pediatrics professor and co-author of the Kansas Journal of Medicine article. “They’re our fighting force. It’s like providing funding for the Pentagon.”

KU researchers surveyed local health departments in mid- to late April. Three-quarters of the state’s county health departments responded.

The survey offers a snapshot of local public health resources well into the pandemic and when the coronavirus was spreading quickly. Kansas had been under lockdown for weeks.

County health departments said they needed more protective gear or other critical supplies. On average, they had just five of the specialized nose swabs used for COVID-19 testing when they answered the researchers’ questions.

“It was not very pretty,” Raghuveer said.

READ MORE AT THE KANSAS NEWS SERVICE/KMUW