COVID-19 has taken 40 lives in Osage County

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital
Megan Henry, RN, of the Osage County Health Department, on Jan. 5 gives a COVID-19 vaccination to Jerry Harris, chief of the Osage Hills Fire Department. The health department vaccinated 201 persons that day in Pawhuska.

It has been about 10½ months since the first reported case of COVID-19 in Osage County, and the total number of positive tests for the county as of Sunday, Feb. 7, was 4,251.

The illness caused by the novel coronavirus had taken 40 lives in the county, according to the state Department of Health.

Nationally, there had been nearly 27 million positive COVID-19 tests as of Sunday, and more than 462,000 Americans had died of the illness. In Oklahoma, there had been nearly 404,000 cases and 3,813 deaths.

In Pawhuska, there had been 469 positive tests and seven deaths as of Sunday. The figures for nearby Barnsdall were 243 positive tests and four deaths.

The ongoing spread of the illness has caused local schools to switch to virtual learning arrangements on a temporary basis, before switching back as the number of students and staff members in quarantine has been reduced.

Pawhuska Public Schools on Tuesday, Feb. 2, returned to in-person classes for most students after a two-week period on virtual-learning status. In a message posted on the school district's website on Jan. 14, school officials cited positive COVID-19 cases, as well as students and staff quarantined, as the reason to convert to virtual learning as of Jan. 15.

Superintendent David Cash said Feb. 2 that an ongoing issue was getting staff members vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to help provide a safe environment for instruction. Cash noted a significant push from the office of Gov. Kevin Stitt to hold in-person classes, and no one working for Pawhuska Public Schools wants the district to be closed to in-person instruction.

"When we don't have enough staff to give a safe environment, that's when we have to do something," Cash said.

He said that staff members who are members of the Osage Nation have had much better access to COVID-19 vaccinations, and that the Osage Nation seems to have been far ahead of state government on the vaccination issue.

The Osage Nation held a vaccination event Saturday, Feb. 6, at the Osage Nation Civic Center on West Main Street in Pawhuska for persons 30 and older to receive inoculations.

Barnsdall Public Schools also converted temporarily to virtual learning in January. The district began its virtual learning period on Tuesday, Jan. 19, due to what it described in a Facebook post as a large number of students in quarantine. The Barnsdall district intended to have virtual school from Jan. 19-21, but ended up continuing the arrangement into the next week. In-person classes eventually resumed on Jan. 27.

"One week ago, we had 92 people in quarantine," Barnsdall Public Schools said in an online post Jan. 26. "Today, we are down to 13 people in quarantine."

The state of Oklahoma has been using an online scheduler portal to help facilitate scheduling of vaccinations, but as of Sunday it had only accommodated health care workers, first responders and persons 65 and older.