At the second COVID-19 press briefing, Pittsburg State University’s Steve Erwin, vice president of student life, joined with Tim Stebbins of the Crawford County Health Office to update the public on university and community decisions related to COVID-19.
The press briefing took place on Sept. 2 in the lobby of the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts. Speakers available at the briefing included vice president of student life Steve Erwin, Crawford County health officer Tim Stebbins and PSU president Steve Scott.
Topics discussed included the rise in positive cases of COVID-19, the number of individuals in isolation due to case activity or in quarantine due to close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, the university’s possible plans for another shift in course delivery should the pandemic response need it, and the recent health order enacted by the Crawford County Health Office which places restrictions on business to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“As we suspected after last week’s estimations, the number is higher than we’d like,” Erwin said. “… Crawford County has excellent testing capability and capacity, which is great for public health, but it also means our students have their pick of several testing sites. In addition, students from surrounding communities might get tested in their hometowns…. This is where our partnership with the county is so valuable…”
According to the Bryant Student Health Center, the Center has tested 154 students, 81 of whom tested positive since last week’s health report. This brings the total to 193 students tested and 96 positives since the beginning of the fall semester. Currently, 101 students are in isolation due to case activity and approximately 600 are in quarantine. It should be noted that the university can only report those tested at the Bryant Student Health Center and as pointed out by Erwin, finding the exact numbers related to COVID-19 at Pittsburg State University is a “complex process.”
“Having numbers that are as accurate as possible is important, and we can’t get there on our own,” Erwin said. “The process we have in place with the county gives use reasonable estimates that help us make decisions.”
Stebbins and Erwin both reiterated that the university and Crawford County Health Office recommendation is not to travel home for the upcoming holiday weekend for Labor Day.
“We have a holiday weekend coming up and there’s a question about students traveling and going home,” Stebbins said. “From the health officers and the Health Department side, we ask that they do not travel home. We know what we have here. We don’t want to spread that to their home communities, so we would prefer that they did not travel, that they stayed here throughout that holiday weekend…”
Scott commented briefly on the outlook on potential shifts in course models should the need arise given the status of COVID-19 in Crawford County and at Pittsburg State University.
“There is no doubt that this is the most difficult thing we’ve ever seen… to plan for,” Scott said. “We’ve had some groups working on worst case scenarios… Believe it or not, some days it feels like we do that every single day because we’re making decisions that might have three or four… paths for us to go. None of those are very pleasant for us in terms of what we really want to do and the experience that we really want to offer to our students… We are thinking day to day, but we’ve also had conversations about commencement. We’ve had conversations about spring. What does the spring semester look like? What will be able to do next spring? We believe that it would be better for our students here rather than scattered and we’ve also decided that we don’t need to be thinking about a binary decision, that we’re open, or we’re closed. There could be a whole bunch of different strategies across the spectrum that wouldn’t cause us to jump to online… Dr. Anthony Fauci said this morning that it’s not a good idea to send students out when you’ve got outbreaks on your campus… As opposed to March, I think we have a very nuanced approach to this… This is a COVID year. Things will be different… I will commit and say that our number one priority is the safety and wellness of our faculty, staff, and students…”