Need some while in town

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They could pass a mask mandate at the urging of health experts or reject the measure blasted by some as a violation of their personal Need some while in town. The five commissioners of Dodge City, a politically red cattle community of about 27, people, had resisted such measures all summer and into fall.

By the time commissioners passed the mask mandate Nov. At least a dozen had died. COVID has spread fast in Dodge City and other small towns where residents ignored public health guidelines and refused to wear masks. Many people lived as they always had, going to work, shopping and visiting friends without worry. In communities where mask-wearing has become a political inflection point, the toll of the virus has surpassed even the most terrifying early days seen in America's big cities.

A USA TODAY analysis found that in recent months, the weekly rates of newly reported cases are highest in rural counties and only slightly lower in other non-metropolitan communities. The trend started Aug. Weeks later, residents openly defy the mandate.

As of early December, police had done nothing to enforce it. Warshaw reed Dec. At Red Beard Coffee on Gunsmoke Street this month, there were no s reminding people to put on masks. Neither the staff nor most customers wore them. His store has bilingual mask rules posted on the front doors, and store clerk Esthela Cisneros is pregnant. For your safety, you need to Need some while in town one. As of Dec. The police department had received only a few complaints about people flouting the rule, Dodge City Police Chief Drew Francis said.

Other complaints, he said, have come from opponents of the mandate. In the s, it served as a destination for cattle headed for the railroad, attracting cowboys, gamblers, buffalo hunters and soldiers. The city became famous for its saloons, outlaws and legendary lawmen such as Wyatt Earp.

It cemented its place in modern history when it served as the backdrop for the television show "Gunsmoke" for 20 years. Dodge City is the most populous town in Ford County and one of the largest cities in western Kansas. Census Bureau estimates. Along the main street, Wyatt Earp Boulevard, car parts stores sit alongside heavy-equipment dealerships and fertilizer depots.

Large gas stations sell diesel fuel to power the steady stream of trucks delivering cattle to the processing plants and hauling beef products to stores nationwide. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, ordered a temporary, statewide stay-at-home order. Schools closed. Businesses shuttered. People stayed home. Still, the disease spread furiously through Ford County. Soon, viral clusters that started in the meatpacking plants led to a rise in cases that made Ford County one of the worst hot spots in Kansas. In Kansas, like most of the USA, the virus has disproportionately harmed nonwhite and Hispanic families.

Especially in the spring and summer, numerous outbreaks were identified at meatpacking plants that hire many Hispanic workers, including the two beef processing plants in Dodge City. City commissioners began holding meetings online in April and received regular updates from health officials. Dodge City leaders promoted good hygiene, social distancing and wearing masksthough they stopped short of a mask mandate. The commission d its in-person meetings off and on over the next few months.

When they met in person, they sat at tables with more space between the elected officials, who regularly wore masks.

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Many people refused. When the lockdowns of the spring expired, mobility tracking data shows many rural and small-city residents quickly d their normal lives. In June, people in rural communities across the country, on average, visited retail and recreation establishments at rates similar to before the pandemic, according to Google cellphone data. By early July, counties with small cities were back to normal levels. While Dodge City officials continued to stave off a mask mandate, residents on both sides of the issue battled each other on a community Facebook.

Quit being a stupid crybaby liberal. The lower infection rates earlier in the year made it easy for officials, particularly those in communities such as Dodge City that supported President Donald Trump, to brush aside the advice of doctors, scientists and other health officials. Reduced case counts over the early summer months created a false sense of security, said Norman of the state health department.

Last month, the CDC published an updated version of the analysisreaching the same conclusion: Mandates worked to reduce infection rates, and places without them saw faster case growth. The political battle over masks has frustrated medical professionals in Need some while in town stretched-thin rural hospitalswho are seeing sick people flooding into ill-equipped facilities. Leaders of metropolitan care centers are worried as smaller facilities ask to send their patients. I would ask people to stop politicizing the virus, stop politicizing the masks.

This is not a political issue. This is life and death. Like many others nationwide, Dodge City schools reopened in Augustoffering both in-person and virtual classes. The schools implemented numerous safety measures, requiring students and staff to wear masks, placing hand sanitizer in high-traffic areas, spreading seats at least 6 feet apart and disinfecting routinely. That meant more chances for the disease to spread from outside the schools to inside. From Sept. The football team canceled its last game of the season after three players tested positive and six others were in quarantine.

Sabrina Frerichs, an elementary school teacher, was among the victims of the second wave to hit Dodge City.

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Frerichs awoke in the middle of the night Oct. Within a week of testing positive, Frerichs said, she could barely eat or drink. She grew weaker, and her blood-oxygen levels fell. The year-old was admitted to a hospital, where she stayed on oxygen for four days. When she came home — exhausted and aching badly — she needed to use an oxygen machine.

Frerichs' year-old son avoided the illness.

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I worry about the long-term effects on my health. Frerichs keeps her opinions on a mask mandate to herself because of the divisiveness in the community over the issue. Frerichs has continued to battle aftereffects of the virus, including tremors in her hands, intermittent tingling in her hands and feet, rapid heart rate, palpitations and shortness of breath.

Even brushing her hair or getting dressed has been exhausting. The first symptom for Karyn Garcia, 29, a teacher's aide, was blinding migraines. She thought it was stress, so she took Tylenol and continued working and caring for her two .

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Two weeks later, exhaustion set in, along with shortness of breath, body aches and fever. Garcia went into quarantine with her children, neither of whom got the virus. This isn't like any other virus, she said. The bone-crushing weariness, the up and down fever — it feels different, she said.

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Though Frerich has a doctor nearby, many rural communities and small towns suffering the most during the COVID surge don't have hospitals or clinics, forcing people to drive long distances to get care or discouraging them from even trying. Hewlett, with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said tests can be hard to come by in rural areas, and the turnaround time for can take a week.

Medical professionals in rural America are exhaustedshe said. They work multiple shifts and are worn down from wearing gowns, gloves and N95 masks for hours on end. Doctors in private practice help carry the load by picking Need some while in town shifts, Hewlett said. Southwest Kansas counties have a total ICU capacity of 22 beds at 18 hospitals for the region's roughlyresidentsstate officials report. On Sept. By Dec. Thanks to that effort, state figures show the region has not been close to running out of ventilators this fall. The ability of larger hospitals to accept new patients could run out as case s rise locally and in surrounding communities that rely on metropolitan facilities for critical care.

On Nov. Among them was Ford County physician adviser R. Trotterwho in April urged residents to wear masks on a radio program. He urged commissioners to take action. Just one infected person affects everyone around them, he said. There can be long-term effects from the disease, such as damage to the brain, lungs, heart and circulatory system. Most residents who testified said that the mandate would infringe on their rights, that it would be hard to enforce or that children would be psychologically traumatized by having to wear masks.

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A few residents encouraged commissioners to follow the advice of medical professionals and impose a mandate. Laura Williams, who has multiple sclerosis and has quarantined herself three times after possible exposures to the virussaid nobody wants a mask mandate or a shutdown, but the virus needs to be controlled.

Need some while in town

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