Public health officers to students: “Stop off-campus large gatherings”

  Wednesday, August 26, 2020 2:30 PM

Pittsburg, KS

COVID-19 update

Off-campus gatherings of young adults appear to have contributed to an increase in positive cases of COVID-19, officials with Pittsburg State University and the Crawford County Health Department announced at a news briefing on Wednesday at PSU. 

The university announced last week it would hold such briefings on a weekly basis this semester as part of a process to keep the campus and community updated the status of COVID-19 among students, faculty, and staff. 

Since the start of classes on Monday, Aug. 17, the Bryant Student Health Center at PSU has tested 39 students. Of those, 15 tested positive. The student health center is currently monitoring 34 COVID-positive students in isolation, and an additional 70 in quarantine as identified close contacts of those infected.   

In the past week, infection rates have escalated quickly among the 18-25 age group in Crawford County. On Aug. 17, the county had 34 active cases in isolation and 77 close contacts in quarantine. As of today, the numbers have jumped to 100 positive cases in isolation, and an additional 400+ close contacts in quarantine.  

Logically, we expected to have infections, though we had hoped the preparation and communication with students would have prevented this kind of spike,” said PSU President Steve Scott. “It’s now clear we must do things differently if we hope to stay open this semester.”   

On Tuesday evening, Aug. 25, Dr. Timothy Stebbins, the Crawford County public health officer, contacted Scott to discuss the situation and options.  

“Our goal is to keep the university open, and that required swift and effective action,” said Dr. Stebbins. “Numbers are rising quickly, and we are trying to stay on top of it, but we need students to help.” 

According to Dr. Stebbins, the problem lies in off-campus gatherings of young adults, so he and Deputy Public Health Officer Dr. Linda Bean are working with the Crawford County Commission to address challenges to the extent of their authority. In addition, the university took immediate action to curtail any face-to-face activities outside of classes. 

Starting Friday, Aug. 28, intercollegiate athletics activities are suspended, potentially until Sept. 14. Ongoing evaluation could mean some activities are reintroduced before that date. Extracurricular activities organized by the Campus Activities Center also are suspended starting on Friday, stricter occupancy limits will be implemented at the Student Recreation Center, and rigid social distancing and disinfecting practices will remain in place for on-campus dining. 

In addition to potential repercussions for violating county or city public health guidelines, students found to be putting themselves or others in danger are subject to discipline outlined in the university’s Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities, even if the activity happens off-campus.  

“We sincerely hope it does not come to that,” said Scott. “We have faith that our students will heed this wake-up call and take the necessary steps to prevent further spread that risks a shift to all-online instruction. We’ll also continue impressing upon them the importance of following all guidelines to protect themselves and others, as their actions have serious consequences for our community.” 

Dr. Stebbins concurred.  

“Young, otherwise healthy adults, which describes most college students, are at lower risk for serious health implications,” he said. “However, they are very mobile and can easily carry this virus to at-risk members of our community  their own parents, grandparents, and friends.  

Dr. Stebbins had further direction for students.  

“Stop all parties. Stop gathering. Stop going to bars,” he said. “Please stop all activity where the virus spreads easily so we can get this under control and move on.”    

The university will hold its next media briefing on Wednesday, September 2. 

The process 

Three times per week, leaders from the Bryant Student Health Center meet with other members of the healthcare community and county public health officials to assess the status of COVID-19 in Crawford County as a whole.  

They discuss testing, positive cases, hospital capacity, the number of patients who in intensive care or on a ventilator, isolation/quarantine rates, and contact tracing.  

University leadership is updated after each meeting. Each Wednesday morning, they review the trends over the past seven days to determine if operations should be adjusted to address challenging areas. The key metrics tracked are: 

  • Latest governmental public health restrictions   
  • Regional infection rates and trends in the ability to respond   
  • Status of other universities in our area, K12 districts in our region, and partners   

Each Wednesday afternoon, the university hosts a conversation with media to discuss the numbersthe impact on campus, and other related topics. A written news release is distributed to media afterward, and the release is published in University News at  

Dr Scott