Education

Pawhuska school board to discuss back to school plans at board meeting

Facing conflicting COVID-19 case counts, Pawhuska Public Schools may be adjusting its back to school plans.

On Aug. 10, Superintendent David Cash confirmed that his district was advised by local health officials that the number of active COVID-19 cases is greater than what is listed on the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s website.

As of 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 10, the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s website lists five active cases for Pawhuska. The county-wide per capita case count, which is updated every Friday, is listed at 9.42 for every 100,000 residents.

However, school district officials were told that figure does not include results from rapid result tests, which are instead classified as probable. Those cases are only included in the active case count if a patient follows up with a diagnostic test.

By comparison, data published on Aug. 8 by the Harvard Global Health Institute lists Osage County as having a seven-day average of 13.4 new cases daily per capita.

“We are quite confident that the information we’ve been getting is not accurate,” Cash said.

In response, the district has formed an ad hoc working group of public health officials and faculty representatives to assess the continuing case numbers that will meet as needed starting on Aug. 10.

Additionally, Cash said if the district does start the year with in-person instruction as planned, masks will be required in an effort to protect the rest of the community.

“We can’t be a conduit for the virus,” Cash said. “We have to take all appropriate measures.”

Additional actions, including going to all distance learning, remain a possibility as public health conditions warrant. About one-fourth of the student body is already signed up for the district’s virtual academy for the upcoming school year.

The Pawhuska school board is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 10 and will be streamed Live from the Pawhuska Public Schools Facebook page. Among the posted agenda items are comments from Dr. Cameron Rumsey, a local physician, about the community’s COVID-19 case count.

In an email, OSDH spokesman Rob Crissinger said the department was unaware of a case spike in Pawhuska and that all confirmed positives are required to be reported.

OSDH officials have publicly acknowledged more than once that there is a lag time in the publicly released data counts thanks in part to testing backlogs, the types of laboratories used and the specific specimens collected. Crissinger noted in his email that OSDH’s established contracts with in-state laboratories are required to turn testing specimens around within up to 72 hours of receipt.