GIRARD, Kan. — Although the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Crawford County has spiked dramatically since hundreds of employees of the SugarCreek bacon packing plant in Frontenac were recently tested, county officials are still not recommending a public health order that would close businesses or restrict public gatherings.

The county’s new deputy public health officer Dr. Linda Bean, who was appointed last Friday along with Dr. Timothy Stebbins as the new public health officer, updated the county commissioners on the coronavirus outbreak at their meeting Tuesday.

Bean noted that as of Monday, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment was reporting 192 coronavirus cases in Crawford County.

"Also to kind of give you a perspective, because testing is ongoing, at Community Health [Center of Southeast Kansas] we have had 350 positive cases since the 4th of June, which is when the positive cases really started showing up in Crawford County again," she said. "This is not 100 percent Crawford County, and not even all of the surrounding communities, but the majority of them are, and the vast majority are people that work or live in Crawford County, so even though a lot of those numbers don’t count towards the Crawford County numbers, they are people that work here and come here regularly."

Bean said area hospitals have been able to handle COVID-19 patients, most of whom have not required hospitalization.

"We’ve seen maybe up to five or six at Via Christi, but not significantly more than that, and Girard has typically had one or two and they don’t have any currently," she said.

Bean said despite the significant increase in confirmed coronavirus cases, the county is still not meeting criteria for needing to issue a new public health order that would close businesses.

Reasons to tighten restrictions would include an increasing number of COVID-19 deaths, the hospital system becoming overburdened, difficulty with testing, or inability to isolate or quarantine individuals who have tested positive. There has still only been COVID-19-related death in Crawford County, she said, and the county is not meeting any of the other criteria for tighter restrictions.

The new positive cases, "fortunately have been in a younger, healthier population and most people, the majority of people, really will have mild symptoms," Bean said. "But, you know, by putting practices into place now and reducing healthy, younger people that don’t get very sick from it from spreading it to those that are at risk can help us to prevent the surges in the hospital, because it’s when those at-risk, vulnerable people get it is when we begin to really see problems for the community."

It can be difficult to identify COVID-19 based only on symptoms because a lot of them "are vague things that a lot of people have all of the time," Bean said.

"The big ones are fever — but not everybody that has COVID has a fever — cough and respiratory symptoms, you know, difficulty breathing, those are the things that a lot of the time will lead to a lot more serious illness," she said. "But we also see just chills, we see muscle pain, we see extreme fatigue, headaches, sore throat, diarrhea, and then one of the kind of hallmark symptoms — and it’s a little bit unusual — is a loss of taste and smell."

Because it is an unusual symptom not generally associated with the common cold or other widespread illnesses, people experiencing a loss of taste and smell are more likely to have contracted COVID-19, Bean said.

Bean said one next step that could be taken if the virus continues to spread locally, before returning to limits on the sizes of gatherings and forcing businesses to close, would be to require — rather than simply recommending — people to wear masks in public areas.

"This is one of those things that unfortunately I’m afraid it’s here to stay in some capacity, and we need to figure out how we can live with it and manage it while still leading a normal life," she said. Officials should be "trying to mitigate having to impose restrictions on what businesses can be open, but rather putting more emphasis on those things that we can do to keep the really vulnerable from getting sick."