Crawford County Commission rescinds COVID-19 health order
PITTSBURG, Kan. — The Crawford County Commission unanimously voted to rescind the county’s Public Health Order #3 Friday morning, after Public Health Officer Tim Stebbins and other community health officials recommended the action.
The vote comes after weeks of declining new positive COVID-19 cases throughout the county — as of Friday morning the county only has had 18 new cases this week — and as vaccine distribution picks up steam. Stebbins stressed that the health community did not make the recommendation lightly, and they only made it because they felt it was best for the community.
“I think we are approaching a time where a restrictive approach is not needed,” Stebbins said. “As we are trying to restrict our community, we wanted to do that for the right reasons, and we have to have the evidence to back that up, and we don’t with our current numbers, and that’s a good thing.”
Former Crawford County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Linda Bean said the decrease in case numbers was a factor in making this decision, but also said the strain on healthcare in the community is significantly less at this time.
“We know that likely we are never going to be at zero [cases],” Bean said, “but our main focus was not over-impacting our hospitals so that we could take care of the people that needed it and that we’re not seeing deaths as a result of this and we’re there.”
However, Stebbins and Bean did recommend that the mask mandate stays in place until after the start of phase four of vaccinations.
“We’re not ready to change our recommendation on that,” Stebbins said. “The masks are important. The masks are going to get us to the finish line.”
Additionally, Stebbins added that schools should keep following the mitigation strategies they have been following all year.
The order, which has been in place since September, placed restrictive measures on restaurants’ capacities, businesses’ operations and public gatherings. With the rescinding of this order, restaurants, businesses and events may now operate at full capacity again — besides still requiring masks to be worn while in public places — nearly one year after COVID-19 began wreaking havoc on the county.
“Since our healthcare burdens have been resolved and been addressed, we want to lessen the burden on the economy and the businesses,” Bean said, “and I think that’s a reasonable thing.”
Stebbins stressed once again, however, that getting rid of this order does not get rid of the masks.
“I want to be very clear that the recommendation does not include changing the mask,” he said, “but to say that, you know, sitting at a restaurant is going to get you covid, I can’t in good confidence, with good evidence and good science say that with this level in the community that is a risk factor.”
Stebbins also said that he and other health officials are just following what the data shows.
“We’re not changing our minds,” he said. “We’re following the data.”
Both Commissioner Tom Moody and Bruce Blair were very supportive of the idea.
“It's because of you folks that we were able to get to this point.” Moody said, “We’ve followed your recommendations from the start. I feel we’re blessed to have the health professionals that we have, and we’ve followed your recommendations on everything. I’m so damn happy with where we’re at today.”
However, Commissioner Jeremy Johnson was not as sold on the idea given that the weather is getting warmer, more community events are on the schedule and COVID-19 variants have started popping up in the US.
“I don’t want to be here next week saying, ‘just kidding, we need to go back,’” Johnson said. “I’m really afraid of that and I don’t want to have that happen.”
However, despite his reservations, Johnson did ultimately vote in favor of the motion.
“It’s a hesitant aye,” he said.
Stebbins and Bean both said they understood Johnson’s concerns and even said they shared some of them.
“We all still have fear of what we’ve been through, and will that come back,” Stebbins said. “I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that it won’t. I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that none of us are going to get injured if we get in our car and drive down the road right now, but we still do those things, and so the challenge that we have is, do we restrict based on feelings or do we restrict based on evidence and science?”
Bean added that they can’t make these decisions based on fear.
“We don’t want fear and trauma based on what we’ve been through during this past year,” she said, “to keep us restricted if we don’t need to.”
Jordan Meier is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org