Fighting a surge: Crawford and Cherokee County fight back a spike in cases

CRAWFORD/CHEROKEE COUNTY, Kan. – Nurses at Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg are back, caring for patients in the COVID ICU. It’s a familiar scene that they didn’t want to happen again.

“We’ve seen a surge as far as up to 11 patients in the hospital with COVID. Right now we have eight,” explains Jamie Cravens, Infection Prevention Coordinator at Ascension Via Christi. “We have seen from the age of 95 to the age of 28. So we’re seeing a wide range, and we’re seeing younger people more in the 20 to 50 range.”

In the fall, the hospital saw as many as 25 patients in one day. So the current numbers aren’t that high, but the hospital is preparing for the worst.

“We went back to that surge plan of… being ready for that amount of patients, making sure we have all the PPE that we need, all the ventilators that we need. And everything in place,” says Craven.

The biggest issue they have right now is when patients need to be transferred out of the hospital for a higher level of care.

“Trying to transfer them out, they have to keep going further and further out because those hospitals are full. Joplin’s full, Springfield’s full, we’re even seeing Kansas City having some diversions, which means that they can’t take patients,” says Cravens. “So the reach is far.”

According to Crawford County Health Department Director Teddi VanKam, the county has seen 61 new cases so far this week (From 07/4 through 07/08), and five deaths in the last ten days.

“This Delta variant, although it is not more virulent, it is much more transmissible. Much easier to spread and to catch, and so that’s what we’re seeing,” says VanKam. “In most cases, it is unvaccinated people who are becoming ill. So if you’re unvaccinated, I urge you to reconsider.”

She says over the last couple of weeks they’ve seen testing increase, and contact tracing has been ongoing as they combat the Delta variant. According to KDHE, 368 per 1000 people have been vaccinated in Crawford County.

“In our county, the population is right at 40 thousand, and 20 thousand people have been vaccinated. That’s half of us. So I don’t think we’ll see the surge as large as it was in December and January,” says VanKam. “But, one is too many. We wanna get it higher. We need more protection.”

Case counts are also increasing in Cherokee County. Cherokee County Health Department Public Information Officer David Groves says in the past 14 days, the case rate has increased 74 percent compared to the two weeks prior. There have been 92 new cases since the end of June.

“We’re seeing an average age of those who are vaccinated at 65 years old. Whereas the average age of those contracting COVID is 41 years old,” says Groves. “So we need that younger demographic to get the vaccine or take the precautions serious enough to mitigate the spread.”

“We need to get people vaccinated in order to prevent another surge,” says Cravens. “We don’t want to go through that again and with the vaccinations rates being as low as they are, we could possibly see that surge again.”