There have now been more than 400 positive coronavirus cases identified in Crawford County since the start of the pandemic — about 1 percent of the county’s overall population, or even slightly higher. Not all of those, however, are still sick with COVID-19, and the number that are is significantly lower.
Crawford County Public Health Officer Timothy Stebbins said Tuesday that there are currently two positive coronavirus cases and two persons under investigation as potential positives at Ascension Via Christi in Pittsburg, 13 people in isolation and 55 in quarantine.
"With the numbers where they are, that has been a steady decline, specifically the isolation numbers, and that’s the sick people," Stebbins said. "The quarantine numbers, wherever that’s at, that’s the appropriate number based on the contact tracing, and so that number, if it’s huge or small doesn’t necessarily matter to me, it’s just that we’re doing the contact tracing."
Stebbins and Deputy Public Health Officer Linda Bean have been doing health, sanitation, and COVID-19 mitigation inspections at area schools, he said, as of Tuesday including two of three schools in Cherokee and three of six public schools in Pittsburg, with plans to inspect the rest of the schools in the county.
"The schools have been very receptive to those inspections," Stebbins said, adding that the schools seem to be on the right track.
The county’s recent order requiring COVID-19 testing for Pittsburg State University students who will be living in university residence halls "went over very well from the college side," he said. "They were very appreciative of that help and they’re moving forward with their work in the testing program."
Stebbins said nearly 200 students had been tested as of Tuesday.
"With the dorms opening up this weekend they will have about 600 more, which will give us good prevalence data, and they’re prepared for it, ready to handle it," he said. "They have the testing company in place, the lab company in place, and we should have those results within 24 or 48 hours after testing, and I think that will go well."
Bean said there are models that rank the impact of COVID-19 on a given school or institution based on the percentage of positive cases detected out of total tests done.
"I don’t necessarily want to put it down that that is a hard and fast criteria for what we’re doing," Bean said, because those models are very dependent on how many people are being tested and considerations such as whether asymptomatic people are being tested.
Stebbins and Bean said that the county’s health orders that have differed from Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive orders have not been meant to overturn Kelly’s orders, but rather to make them workable in the local context. Stebbins also discussed the response he’s gotten from educators about the county’s coronavirus mitigation guidelines for schools.
"Honestly we’re not finding a lot of pushback from teachers regarding masks for kids; it’s the distance," he said. "Is six feet really the important distance? The data is pretty clear that in children, especially with lower lung capacities and decreased ability to push those droplets out, three to six feet is probably reasonable, especially the younger you go, especially if they’re wearing a mask."
Allowing students to comply with only three-foot social distancing requirements rather than six-foot distance "changes the whole dynamics of what they’re trying to do in school," Stebbins said. "Three-foot is manageable. Six-foot in our schools — many of our schools, many of our classrooms — is not. The only way they would be able to do that would be alternating days of school, which is probably not going to be an effective learning strategy."