PITTSBURG — With area medical facilities reaching their capacity for coronavirus patients, Ascension Via Christi Hospital announced this week it is halting elective and non-emergent procedures and the Crawford County Commission called a special meeting to discuss additional measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.


"The decision was made to pause elective and non-emergent procedures due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Crawford and Bourbon counties," Ascension Via Christi president Randy Cason said in a news release. "Hospital leaders met today and agreed that activating the surge plan that we developed this past spring was our best course of action."


The surge plan allows the hospital to reallocate staff from other departments to assist with a patient influx.


As of Tuesday, Crawford County was reporting 117 positive coronavirus cases in isolation and 535 of their close contacts in quarantine. There have been times in recent months when there were more positive cases in isolation and quarantine in the county, but the virus has recently been spreading more among the older, more vulnerable population. As of Tuesday, there were 21 coronavirus-positive patients at Ascension Via Christi, Stebbins said.


Until now, Via Christi has at times been accepting patients from surrounding counties and across the state line in Missouri.


"But now we are filling up, they are filling up, and there’s going to be no place to go," Stebbins said. "And if this continues in its current trajectory, all of those systems will be overwhelmed."


Stebbins said Tuesday that the local problem was "further exacerbated by the fact that the regional players that we would typically utilize for ICU capability, including Mercy and Freeman in Joplin, are also full and are unable to take our critical care cases. And so then we have to try to go to other places, including KU and the hospitals in Kansas City and/or Springfield. They are also full, and that makes for a significant challenge."


While the spread of COVID-19 to vulnerable populations in local long-term care facilities has been a concern, those facilities have generally been doing a good job of taking safety measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, Deputy Crawford County Public Health Officer Dr. Linda Bean said.


But the county has now reached the level of "community spread," she said, where the coronavirus is widespread enough in the area that it can be difficult to trace where a specific patient contracted it. Bean and Stebbins emphasized the need for people with symptoms to get tested and for those who have tested positive to inform the health department of their contacts.