PITTSBURG, Kan. — As coronavirus cases increase among Pittsburg State University students, officials are urging them not to go home for the holiday weekend and risk spreading the virus even further.
Since Aug. 17, nearly half of all students tested at the Bryant Student Health Center — 96 out of a total of 193 — have tested positive for COVID-19, said Steve Erwin, vice president of Student Life at PSU, at the university’s weekly news briefing on its coronavirus response efforts on Wednesday.
Erwin also noted, however, that students are being tested elsewhere in Crawford County, and in other counties, and that if they test positive but their permanent address is in another county they are not counted by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment as a Crawford County positive case.
"So everything gets a bit fuzzy and a bit confusing and takes a lot of manpower and a lot of effort to work through to get at those numbers," he said.
Crawford County Public Health Officer Dr. Tim Stebbins also spoke at the news briefing, saying that as of Wednesday morning, the county had 349 active COVID-19 cases in isolation and "greater than 1,000" of their close contacts in quarantine — a sharp increase from a week earlier.
"We’ve quadrupled our numbers in seven days," he said.
Stebbins said 86 percent of the cases in isolation Wednesday were in the 18 to 25 year old age group. The county website had not been updated Thursday morning with more recent numbers.
Stebbins also discussed the upcoming holiday weekend and the possibility that students will be going back to their hometowns for Labor Day.
"From the health officers and health department side, we ask that they do not travel home," he said.
"We know what we have here. It’s here. We don’t want to spread that to their home communities, and so we would prefer that they did not travel, that they stayed here throughout that holiday weekend," Stebbins said.
PSU President Steve Scott echoed Stebbins’ request that students remain in Pittsburg through Labor Day weekend, and also suggested the university would be moving further toward a "hybrid" teaching model, combining in-person and online classwork.
"We do believe our students would be better off here than scattered," Scott said, "and we’ve also decided that we don’t think that we need to be thinking about a binary decision — that we’re either open or we’re closed, we’re either operating face-to-face or we’re fully online. There are going to be a whole bunch of different strategies across the spectrum that we could implement that wouldn’t cause us to jump to online."
Scott outlined three top priorities for the university administration moving forward: ensuring the safety and wellness of faculty, staff and students; ensuring the students can continue to make progress in their degree programs; and being transparent and communicating regularly with the public. He also reiterated again that students should not leave town for Labor Day weekend if possible.
"Labor Day is an important weekend," Scott said. "A lot of times people want to get together with their families, but this would be a very good weekend to forgo it. Stay here on the campus and let’s stay safe and let’s stay together would be my message."