CRAWFORD COUNTY, Kan. — Although the COVID-19 situation at Pittsburg State University has improved following a recent outbreak as students returned to campus to start the semester, county officials now see troubling trends as the virus spreads among other demographics in the community, they said Friday.
Crawford County Public Health Officer Dr. Tim Stebbins said there were 540 active novel coronavirus cases in isolation as of Friday morning, including 129 new cases identified this week.
"We’d previously been reporting that the active cases were composed primarily of the 18 to 25-year-old group, and that was actually up to 86 percent of the cases at the time," Stebbins said.
While the 18 to 25-year-old age range is still the single largest age demographic, it is now down to 35 percent of active cases, Stebbins said. Children up to 10 years old now make up 8 percent of the total, 11 to 17-year-olds are 7 percent, 26 to 45-year-olds are 22 percent, 46 to 65-year-olds are 15 percent, and 13 percent of active cases are people older than 65.
"That is a concerning trend to us," Stebbins said, as the coronavirus is now spreading among higher-risk population groups.
There are now active cases among residents or staff at three area long-term care facilities, he said, "and we will have deaths related to that."
Positive cases in long-term care facilities also place an additional burden on the healthcare system overall, as residents coming out of isolation at area hospitals would typically return to their long-term care facility for rehabilitation, but cannot do so if active cases at those facilities make them unsafe.
"That will cause backlog in our hospitals, backlog in our community," Stebbins said. "It’s worsened by the fact that our surrounding communities are also feeling the same effects, and Freeman Hospital and Mercy Hospital in Joplin have been on diversion essentially daily or near daily for the last week and a half, which means we can’t transfer our patients to our tertiary care facility."
If patients need to be transferred to Kansas City, Topeka or Wichita for more specialized care than is available locally, doing so could take 6 to 8 hours, not only impacting their ability to get treatment but also taking up valuable time for medical personnel.
Stebbins, who along with Crawford County Deputy Public Health Officer Dr. Linda Bean agreed Friday to remain in his position with the county through the end of the year, also criticized those who have downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19, pointing out that the long term effects of the disease remain unknown.
"We are seeing chronic illness related to this," Stebbins said. "We are seeing issues with brain function afterwards similar to stroke pattern. We’re seeing athletes in colleges that are no longer able to play and sometimes can’t even do their daily activities because COVID-19 has attacked their heart muscle and now their heart is twice or bigger than it was and they’re in heart failure at 20."
For most people, Stebbins said, COVID-19 has not proved significantly dangerous, but for others it can be deadly or lead to a lifelong disability, which is why it is important to take mitigation efforts seriously.
"It breaks the chain," he said. "We look at every piece of this cycle in our mitigation strategy to see where we can break the chain of transmission."