County aims to open, but keep its COVID curve flat

Robert Smith

As of Monday morning, it had been more than a month since the Oklahoma State Department of Health last announced a COVID-19 death for Osage County. There had been eight officially confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the county, the last of which was announced April 14.

Osage County also entered the week with 91 officially confirmed positive tests for the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus. There had been 5,398 positive tests statewide and 288 deaths.

Kelli Rader, the regional health department administrator who supervises the Osage County Health Department, told county commissioners Monday morning there had been a small upward bump in the county’s COVID-19 case numbers in the previous week and those new cases were being investigated.

Monday was also the first day for the county courthouse in Pawhuska, and other county-owned buildings where government business is conducted, to be open to the general public since the Board of County Commissioners closed them March 16. The commissioners convened last Thursday afternoon in a special meeting at the Ag Building at the fairgrounds and hammered out provisional guidelines for the attempt to operate county buildings safely upon their reopening. Those guidelines remain subject to amendment as necessary, but the county board did not make any changes Monday.

Emergency Management Director Jerry Roberts, in the Thursday special meeting, showed other county officials a fogger machine that he had purchased from a Lowe’s store for $99. Roberts said the machine was one of four that had been obtained for use in spraying disinfectant throughout county buildings. He said other businesses were trying to sell similar machines for as much as $500 apiece.

Given the price, the commissioners promptly thought about how many more foggers it might be helpful to have on-hand. They ended up asking Roberts to obtain seven more. He said Monday morning that Lowe’s had lowered the price to $95 per machine once it learned how many he wanted.

District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones said Monday, following Rader’s presentation, that he is trying to make arrangements for COVID-19 antibody tests to be available for Osage County employees.

“It would be at no cost to the employee; at no cost to the county,” Jones said. Antibody testing provides data about whether a person has previously been infected with COVID-19 and now has antibodies against it.

Rader offered to provide space at the Osage County Health Department for the antibody testing to be administered. She said a lot of people have had COVID-19 but not displayed symptoms, so the testing is valuable.

“It’s great information to have,” Rader said.

Jones said he wanted county employees to be able to receive the antibody test at work, rather than having to take off work individually to go and receive it.

County Tourism Director Kelly Bland reported Monday to the commissioners that COVID-19 has not killed off interest in traveling to Osage County, as the nation begins to try to open up again. Bland said 100 people signed up on a recent weekend for an electronic newsletter about travel opportunities in Osage County. She also said CrossTimbers Marina, on Skiatook Lake, was “booked solid” last weekend.

While expressing sorrow about the cancellation of the Ben Johnson Memorial Steer Roping, which is a well-attended annual Father’s Day event at the county fairgrounds, Bland said she was encouraged that the Osage County Cattlemen’s Association would be holding its annual ranch tour on the Saturday before Father’s Day — June 20. That event involves people staying in their vehicles and tuning in to listen to a radio broadcast regarding Osage County ranches. The tour was already organized in that way each year, and there was no need to change its format because of COVID-19.