By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — There have been concerns in Newkirk about cases of COVID-19, as incidences recently spiked due to a youth sporting team increasing the number of cases to about 13 in recent weeks. While most of those cases have disappeared due to quarantine, many more students have now been quarantined at Newkirk High School (NHS), as a student tested positive for COVID-19 sending approximately 30 other people into quarantine following contact tracing.
The student contracted the disease over the weekend, and NHS quickly underwent contact tracing to find who may have come in contact with that student. NHS worked with the Kay County Health Department (KCHD) for the contact tracing, identifying the approximate 30 students and staff members, who are all now under a two-week quarantine.
NHS quickly contacted the KCHD for assistance with the case, which looked at several parameters to determine who is most at risk of contacting the individual.
“Anytime someone tests positive for COVID-19 at NPS, the KCHD and works with NPS to contact trace and see who’s been exposed to the virus,” said Newkirk Public Schools (NPS) Superintendent Scott Kempenich. “They look at who’s been near that person, within 6 ft. for 15 minutes or more, and it is really difficult for us in public education to social distance because our classrooms were not designed for that.”
According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH), there have been 596 total cases in Kay County, with 13 deaths. For individual communities, those numbers include 43 for Newkirk, as of Sept. 28, but Ponca City has the highest number, at 472. Other communities include Blackwell, at 48; Tonkawa, at 31; Kaw City, at 13; and Shidler, at 6.
Current cases in Newkirk are small, at four within the community and one outside city limits, for a total of five active cases.
“We’re watching it real close, and we do know where some of the (affected) areas are located,” said Newkirk Fire Chief Adam Longcrier, who also administers the Newkirk ambulance service. “There was a huge spike a couple of weeks ago, but that was located in a central area south of town.”
That spike was caused by the positive test of a youth athletic coach, forcing the team to undergo quarantine, but that was more than two weeks ago, and most athletes have since finished quarantine, Longcrier said.
The fire department and ambulance service take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, whether or not they come in contact with the virus. Through the OSDH, they have been able to determine where cases are in the community, and address individual issues accordingly. For the NFD, that includes wearing their full gear, and for the ambulance, wearing Tyvek suits, as well as gloves and masks.
They also sanitize all equipment daily, especially following a call where COVID-19 may have been present, using a chemical known as hypochlorous acid, which is deadly to COVID-19.
“We’re sanitizing the ambulance after every call, and we’re sanitizing the fire trucks,” Longcrier said.
Only a couple of students currently have tested positive for COVID-19, but should others become infected, NPS has a plan in place, which was created in conjunction with the KCHD.
Under the Green Plan, all facilities remain open, and students will have classroom instruction, although virtual learning is also an option if students opt to remain home for safety. Should multiple students test positive in separate campuses, the school enters the Yellow Plan, where students will be put into two groups, with Group A in the classroom Monday-Tuesday and virtual learning Thursday-Friday, and Group B doing virtual learning Monday-Tuesday and in-class learning Thursday-Friday. Wednesdays will be virtual learning.
The Yellow Plan will be in place for two weeks, and all extracurricular activities will be cancelled.
If another positive test is identified during the Yellow Plan, the school enters the Red Plan, with virtual learning for 21 days, and students or staff who test positive must be without a fever for 72 hours and pass a health questionnaire.
The school is currently in the Green Plan, but staff and administration remain on alert to protect the health of the students.
“We’re going to remain normal for now, and we’ll keep a close eye on it,” Kempenich said. “Our goal is to stay in in-class instruction, but fortunately, other options are available.”