CRAWFORD COUNTY, Kan. — After hearing from the county’s public health officer Tuesday that it might be necessary to make policy changes in response to area hospitals reaching their capacity for COVID-19 patients, the Crawford County Commission received better news Friday, and did not issue any new health orders.
The number of COVID-19-positive patients at Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg was down from 21 on Tuesday to 14 on Friday, according to Dr. Tim Stebbins, Crawford County public health officer, and there were other encouraging trends in the local response to the coronavirus.
“We have had — we believe — increased testing in the community, which is good, which is what we were asking for,” Stebbins said. Asked by Commissioner Jeremy Johnson what he meant by that, Stebbins said that “people are seeking care when they’re ill versus trying to stick it out at home.”
Deputy County Health Public Officer Dr. Linda Bean added that overall testing has increased over the past two weeks and that local organizations that are doing COVID-19 testing have said this week that more people have been proactive about getting tested.
In area K-12 schools the impact of the coronavirus has been low, and Pittsburg State University has also been doing a good job of mitigating the spread of the virus, county health officials said.
If individual schools or districts needed to temporarily switch to a remote learning model for all students for logistical reasons, Stebbins said, the county health department would support those decisions by local school boards.
“But by and large the schools have been extremely effective in managing this pandemic in their system and have prevented significant spread within their systems,” he said, “and so we are not advocating for a change in that and in fact we would fight a change in that because it is such a protected environment and they’re doing such a good job.”
Commissioner Johnson said that given that K-12 schools in the county and PSU are effectively mitigating the spread of COVID-19, the county should consider stepping up enforcement on its end of health orders that have been in place for some time.
“We have the mechanism in place,” he said. “I think we need to start following through with it.”
He added that wearing a facemask in public places — with some exceptions such as when people are seated and eating or drinking at restaurants and bars — is required by law.
“I think part of it is public perception," Johnson said. “We passed the order but maybe it’s been forgotten or misunderstood that this is an enforceable thing.”
Stebbins said that for the most part, warning businesses if they are not in compliance has been effective in getting them to follow the county’s health orders. In some cases, though, businesses are misplacing blame for their financial struggles during the pandemic, he said.
“It was said to us that people aren’t going [to businesses] because they don’t feel safe because we’re telling them they have to wear a mask. No, I think people don’t feel safe when they walk into a business and see that you’re not taking the appropriate standards. And if they don’t come because you’re not doing the right thing, that’s your fault,” Stebbins said. “And so what I would ask every business to do is to show the world that you’re doing the right thing to keep people safe.”
He added that businesses should not assume that customers won’t judge them based on their COVID-19 response.
“All of the businesses need to understand, the public’s watching you, right? And if you think they’re not telling us, you’re just — you’re wrong,” Stebbins said. “Probably more importantly, if you think they’re not putting it on Facebook, you know, you’ve got your head in the sand.”
Johnson said, however, that calling the county health department rather than posting about health order violations on Facebook “would probably be a better first step.”
County health officials noted that people can also report people to the health department if they are violating isolation or quarantine orders they’ve been given if they’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or come into contact with someone who has tested positive.
Despite the advice they gave about best practices for the public and for businesses to help mitigate the spread of the virus, though, Stebbins and Bean did not recommend the county issue a new public health order Friday.
“It would be easy to knee-jerk and say our hospitals are full, let’s do the stay-at-home order, or let’s, you know, limit mass gatherings and all of that,” Bean said, “but we just have not felt that that is anything that is going to impact to a significant degree.”