COVID-19 cases rise in Crawford County

Jonathan Riley

PITTSBURG—After going through the entire month of May with no new coronavirus cases, several more have been confirmed in Crawford County, Kansas last week, but the local health department is not recommending any major policy changes or new legally mandated restrictions in response.

The Crawford County Health Department confirmed two new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, on Monday. Three more were confirmed Tuesday, followed by another on Wednesday, six more on Thursday, and at least three more on Friday, according to the health department.

This brings the total number of cases identified in the county since the start of the pandemic to more than 20, although several of those who tested positive early on have since recovered and are no longer in isolation or quarantine. There has still only been one COVID-19 death in the county.

Several of the new cases are apparently connected to the Sugar Creek bacon packing plant in Frontenac, although not all of them, according to Crawford County Health Officer Rebecca Adamson. At Tuesday’s county commission meeting, Adamson referred to “a food plant,” but also at least once mentioned Sugar Creek by name.

“There’s been a lot of questions around closing a food plant in Crawford County because of some positive cases, and we would not close a food plant,” she said. “They are considered an essential function under the Kansas essential function framework.”

Adamson said Sugar Creek is “being very proactive to prevent the spread” and following all KDHE, Kansas Department of Agriculture, and CDC guidelines. She noted that other food processing or packaging plants in Kansas have had many more cases than Sugar Creek and have still not been shut down by any state or local agency.

Adamson said the health department has offered to test all employees at the bacon plant for the disease, but Sugar Creek declined the offer.

The Sugar Creek plant has approximately 580 employees, not all of whom live in Crawford County or even in Kansas, Adamson said, and the county health department is aware of other positive cases associated with the plant, but those aren’t counted as Crawford County positive cases.

“I will say that the plant has been very cooperative on getting us all of the information that we requested,” she said.

Adamson said people should realize that COVID-19 is in Southeast Kansas.

“All the counties around us are having increased cases, just like us, and it was to be expected after things opened up,” Adamson said. “So if you’re going to go to the grocery store, you need to take your public health precautions, wear your mask, socially distance, wash your hands.”

Even if the Sugar Creek plant or another business that saw a coronavirus outbreak was shut down, Adamson said, it would not eliminate the risk of COVID-19 spreading.