By Allen Edmonds
HARRISONVILLE – The Cass County COVID Task Force, made up of city and county leaders, shared concerns about the lack of a plan for vaccine distribution during Thursday’s virtual meeting.
The group meets normally on Thursday afternoon to discuss challenges and determine directions in handling the pandemic throughout the county after listening to a weekly update from Cass County Health Department Director Andrew Warlen.
Belton Police Chief and Emergency Management Director Jim Person asked Warlen what direction he had received regarding a plan for beginning the vaccination program, saying he had been queried by local long-term care facilities and others wanting to know what would be happening with the anticipated approval of an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine. That approval was given late Friday, and shipping of the vaccine was set to begin over the weekend.
“Well, while the messaging has been that it is going to be pushed out locally, it’s not necessarily going to be pushed out through the Health Department. We’re still kind of waiting to see what our role is going to be,” Warlen said.
That response met with disappointment from Person, and sympathy from others in the group, including Warlen.
“My understanding is that front-line health care workers will be working through their hospitals, and there are plans to get those people vaccinated. Long-term care facilities, to my knowledge, are still going to be vaccinated in the first phase, but with the help of CVS and Walgreens even though I’m still not clear to tell you all the details, Chief,” Warlen said.
“As our emergency management person,” Person responded, “I’m asked all the time, what is the plan? And we keep hearing that there is a plan, and that CVS and Walgreen are going to be an integral part of this plan, but it’s not getting pushed all the way down so that we know what to expect and what to tell the residents of these long-term care facilities.”
Warlen said he sympathizes.
“I’d love to join your support group,” he said, “because I’m kind of in the same boat, Chief.”
Chris Lang, chief executive officer of the Cass Regional Medical Center in Harrisonville, jumped in.
“Both of our hospitals (CRMC and Belton Regional Medical Center) are signed up to be shot sites and we don’t have any information from the state as to what we’re getting, if we’re getting it, when we’re getting it - anything,” Lang said. “So we are ready, from the standpoint of doing planning, but we don’t know what’s happening.”
Todd Krass, CEO of Belton Regional Medical Center, echoed the sentiment.
“Like Chris said, we’re still waiting. And we’re having some challenges with the state officials to give us any information about when.”
Krass said his facility is ready to administer vaccine to front-line health care workers first, “but after that, we have not heard anything else.”
Cass County Presiding Commissioner Bob Huston said it sounded like everyone was in the same place with the situation.
“Yeah, it’s been frustrating for weeks and weeks now coming from the Governor’s office,” Person said. “They keep saying there’s a plan, but no one seems to know what the plan actually is.
“It’s not getting down to the level it actually needs to be. I can see it getting to the place where they say, ‘all right, go forth and give shots,’ but that’s not a plan,” Person said.
Huston said he would email Randall Williams, the director of the state health department, to see if he could get more specific direction.
Warlen emailed the group a PDF document from the state that had been referenced as the “plan,” but he agreed with Person that when it came down to specific logistics, and how the vaccines would be distributed locally and by whom, the direction fell short.
Warlen said he agreed, and that in meetings he had been in with other health department leaders, there had been the same pushback.
Huston said that if push came to shove, “I have complete and total faith in this local group we have right here to come up with the plan and accomplish the task.”
Person also asked Huston if the County Commission had given any more consideration to a countywide mask order, after declining to issue one several weeks ago.
“At least in our business community, there are those that say they will do it (enforce mask compliance in their businesses), but they’ll only do if they are ordered to,” Person said.
Huston said the last discussion he had with commissioners Jimmy Odom and Monty Kisner was at a work session on Tuesday, and “they were not in favor of doing that yet.
“They are in favor of encouraging people to do the right thing, and frankly, I was in Walmart yesterday here in Harrisonville, and probably 90 percent had masks on,” Huston said.
“But I’m not comfortable with doing a mask order yet. I know you really want one, Jim, and I understand,” he said.
Person said the northwest corner of the county presents a different challenge.
“Because of the amount of commercial development we have here, and retail, we just have a lot of people who are requesting us to do something. And our position continues to be that the authority lies with the county health department. And so that’s the reason I keep asking,” Person said.
Warlen opened the session by telling the group that the county case count has gone to 4,453, with 43 deaths, and 20 admitted to hospitals in the last two weeks.