After issuing a public health order in response to a spike in coronavirus cases last week that required bars and restaurants to stop serving at midnight and close by 12:30 a.m., Crawford County officials approved a revised order Friday allowing those businesses to return to their regular operating hours.

Earlier in the week Dr. Tim Stebbins, the county’s public health officer, said that while the original order was intended to prevent college students from spreading COVID-19 by gathering in large groups at bars late at night, there was a better chance of mitigating the spread of the coronavirus at bars than there was at private house parties where students would be going instead.

As of Friday morning, Stebbins said, Crawford County had officially reported 462 active coronavirus cases in isolation, but about 40 more cases had already been detected, bringing the total to more than 500, with around 2,000 close contacts of positive cases in quarantine.

Many cases are also being identified among Pittsburg State University students, who are not counted among the county’s cases unless they have a local permanent address. PSU had 140 positive cases in isolation and about 650 close contacts in quarantine as of Friday morning, Stebbins said, and four PSU fraternity and sorority houses were under quarantine.

The spread of COVID-19 in Crawford County, however, has not been limited to college students.

Two long-term care facilities in the county now have either residents or staff who have tested positive, and five of the county’s Emergency Medical Services technicians were in isolation Friday after testing positive for the disease.

“We are still able to operate our emergency services but that’s starting to get tight,” Stebbins said.

Despite the increasing numbers of positive cases, hospital capacity has not been a problem, Deputy Public Health Officer Dr. Linda Bean said, and many of the new cases identified have been asymptomatic.

There has been an additional COVID-19-related death connected to an area long-term care facility, although that person had multiple comorbidities, Bean said.

“Whether that’s the primary cause, or a contributing factor, or whatever, if they’re positive at the time it counts toward that, so we are including that,” she said.

Although restaurants and bars can now stay open later under the latest health order, their employees who serve customers or who are involved in preparing food or drinks are still required to wear masks, customers can only be served if they are seated and must be seated six feet apart, dance floors must remain closed, and employers are strongly recommended to screen employees for COVID-19 symptoms before each shift.

Stebbins said the county health department has received reports of some businesses requiring employees to work despite testing positive for COVID-19 and being ordered to remain in isolation or quarantine.

“I will tell you that is in violation of Kansas statute, that is a Class C misdemeanor, and we will, to the extent of our capability, enforce that through the county attorney and the city attorneys,” he said. “We cannot have forced transmission of COVID-19, because that’s essentially what that is.”

The $100 fine for violating the county’s public health order issued last week, however, has been taken out of the revised order approved Friday. Law enforcement will be responding to complaints about businesses violating the order, though, and may pursue more serious penalties against repeat offenders.

If a business fails to comply with the order, penalties could include closure by the health department. The business would then have to submit a remediation plan and pass an inspection before reopening.

For more information and to read the full order issued Sept. 4, visit https://www.crawfordcountykansas.org/.