Crawford County officials met Friday to discuss the latest developments in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, including decisions to be made about reopening schools.
Gov. Laura Kelly issued an executive order requiring students and school staff to wear masks in school on Monday, and attempted to issue an order delaying the start of school until after Labor Day. The Kansas State Board of Education rejected the latter order, however, and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Thursday that counties and school districts can exempt themselves from Kelly’s mask order.
Kelly, a Democrat, responded to Schmidt’s comments with what the Associated Press called "a scathing statement" that Schmidt is wrong and that he and other Republicans have "only created more hurdles and uncertainty" amidst the pandemic.
In Crawford County, it was not entirely clear Friday whether the start of school would be delayed for area districts or the mask order enforced.
"We look at this as a community impact, versus the total case number," Crawford County Public Health Officer Dr. Timothy Stebbins said at Friday’s county commission meeting. "We did have a rise in our case numbers from 338 last week to 360, which caused some concern, but when we look at the actual data, the date of onset of the symptoms, some of those were two weeks ago. They’re already out of isolation."
By Friday afternoon, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment listed 367 COVID-19 cases for Crawford County, although Stebbins also said county health officials have access to data that is more up-to-date than what is available on the KDHE website.
"And so our level of concern is actually lower because we’re looking at current prevalence and current impact on our medical systems, and that’s important, right, because we are still not overwhelmed in our hospitals," he said. "We’re still not overwhelmed in our clinics, and we’re still not overwhelmed with significant adverse cases."
Although there has been a second COVID-19 death in Crawford County, "that’s a very low number" considering there have been hundreds of positive cases identified in the county, he said, adding that he did not want to minimize the impact of the virus on people who have had it or the families of those impacted.
Stebbins said county officials are "also looking at how this impacts the different age groups, especially with the questions that are coming up now, and our concerns — or the community concerns — related to the schools.
"So we’re looking at a lot of data including CDC data and data from other countries that have already done reopenings to help us guide that decision. And I just want everybody to understand that we’re not making that decision based on any pressure from any group, political or otherwise. We’re making the best decisions that impact — or decrease the impact — for our students, our teachers, and our community, and that’s how we’re going to do this."
Stebbins said county health department decisions will be guided by current data, science, and common sense, and the department is willing to help area school districts or other organizations come up with plans for safely starting school or reopening.
He did not give any recommendation about when schools should reopen countywide or recommendations for individual school districts at Friday’s commission meeting, although health officials were scheduled to meet separately with school superintendents Friday, and Stebbins seemed to suggest that different area school districts might take different approaches based on their needs.
"Frontenac may be different than Cherokee or Girard," he said. "And so we have to look at that too, by school and even down to the classroom."
Crawford County Health Department Director Rebecca Adamson said Friday that her department needs to hire more personnel and needs more funding before schools reopen to adequately handle coronavirus issues.