With hundreds of positive COVID-19 cases in isolation locally and more than 1,000 of their close contacts in quarantine, the Crawford County Health Department has reached the point where it is being overwhelmed in its case tracing efforts, officials said Tuesday.
Nonetheless, county officials may soon revise a public health order issued last week to be less restrictive, as they now view aspects of it as potentially counterproductive.
The number of positive Crawford County cases in isolation was 308 as of Tuesday morning, while Pittsburg State University had 131, and the university is currently identifying about 20 to 30 positive cases per day. Although some of those cases overlap, PSU students who are not permanent county residents are not counted as Crawford County cases.
There were five positive cases at Ascension Via Christi Hospital as of Tuesday morning, according to Dr. Linda Bean, the county’s deputy public health officer, and one person under investigation as a potential coronavirus case.
"None of the positives are currently on a ventilator, and at this point capacity is good," she said.
Last week, county officials directed area long-term care facilities to return to "phase red," or the most restrictive phase of their reopening plan, until further notice.
"We are seeing a little bit of an impact in the long-term care facilities," Bean said Tuesday. "One in particular is really struggling with staffing due to the number of staff that are either out positive or out quarantined, and so that is the big challenge. We have had a positive who is now admitted, and so that is certainly impacting what long-term care facilities are having to do as far as testing, as far as isolating residents."
In terms of K-12 schools, the county health department is not yet recommending that school districts should be mandated to switch to a hybrid or entirely remote learning model. The highest number of positive cases in any of the county’s school districts was five as of Tuesday, including both students and staff.
Dr. Tim Stebbins, the county’s public health officer, said that the county health department has asked for help from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) in its contact tracing and quarantine efforts.
"We are still sending out our own isolation order to all positives, so that that’s the legal order within the county, but we need their help to manage the case tracing so we can initiate the quarantines throughout the community," Stebbins said.
When it comes to the county’s order issued last week limiting hours that bars and restaurants can be open and requiring them to implement additional coronavirus mitigation procedures, county officials pointed out Tuesday that closing bars early would likely lead to college students having more house parties. It would be harder for law enforcement officers to stop college students from partying at private residences, they said, but could be done in some circumstances.
"I think if they saw a large gathering of kids it might pique their interest, just for all the other laws that they might be breaking at that time," Stebbins said.
Stebbins added, however, that the county might want to reconsider some aspects of its latest public health order, as closing bars early meant people would be "moving from a protected environment where we know that the social distancing is appropriate and the seat-to-serve is appropriate to an outside, unprotected environment."
While it might seem county officials were "sort of changing our mind" or "sort of backpedaling," Stebbins said, they are making their decisions based on the latest data as it becomes available.
"I think it’s important that we look at everything we’re doing each day to see what the positive or negative impact is and adjust appropriately based on what we’re seeing so that our decisions are reasonable and effective," he said.
Following an executive session with the commissioners, Stebbins said that health officials would review the order issued last week and come back with recommendations for changes later in the week, which would likely include allowing bars and restaurants to close later than 12:30 a.m., as previously required.
Stebbins pointed out that statewide, the number of positive COVID-19 cases identified is increasing by about 600 per day.
"So it’s not just our corner of the state," Commissioner Tom Moody said.
"It’s not just our corner, but we’re certainly on their radar," Stebbins said, apparently referring to the KDHE.
Dr. Bean said the county still has adequate testing capability, including rapid testing capability, and is currently getting results of tests in 24 to 48 hours on average.