Douglas County’s school virus guidance remains in orange tier; Lawrence school district to follow it for another week

photo by: Sylas May/Journal-World Illustration

Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health’s guidance for schools operating during the COVID-19 pandemic will remain constant for another week.

The health department announced Thursday that it was keeping its recommendation in the orange tier, which calls for hybrid in-person instruction. It also calls for prohibiting competitions among “high risk” athletics and activities unless safety precautions are taken, such as wearing masks during gameplay.

The color-coded guidance is meant to help county school districts navigate reopening schools and conducting activities as the pandemic continues into the fall semester.

According to the health department’s data, the 14-day average number of cases in the county continues to fall. As of Thursday, the average number is about 50 new cases. However, that is still higher than the county’s earlier peak in fall, when the University’s of Kansas’ fall semester entry testing program led to the the county to see its average of new cases reach the the 40s.

Meanwhile, the county’s 14-day average positivity rate slightly increased to 6.5% this week and there are 1,109 active cases for the virus.

“Given our active case count is still higher than 1,000 and that our percent positivity rate has ticked up from last week, our school guidance will remain in phase Orange this week,” said Dan Partridge, director of the health department.

photo by: Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health

Douglas County’s 14-day moving average COVID-19 PCR test positivity rate as of Dec. 10.

However, the county’s current average positivity rate is within the range — between 5% and 10% — that would help suggest moving the guidance to the yellow tier. If the average number of cases continue to fall, the guidance could head back to the yellow tier in the near future. The yellow tier calls for schools to use either hybrid or fully in-person learning models and allows athletics and activities, including those that are “high risk,” to continue with some standard public health precautions.

Locally, the county’s four main communities’ average positivity rates are also in the yellow tier range. Eudora has the highest local rate at 7.9%, while Baldwin City’s rate is 7.0%, Lawrence’s rate is 6.1% and Lecompton’s rate is 5.8%.

Lawrence still following health department guidance

Despite adopting its own gating criteria recently, the Lawrence school district plans to follow the health department’s guidance for another week.

When the school board on Dec. 3 adopted the Kansas State Department of Education’s gating criteria — which added the use of county incidence rates and local hospital capacity to respond to outbreaks — they did not agree to a method that determines what the criteria recommends.

Superintendent Anthony Lewis at the time suggested an averaging system for the five criteria to create a recommendation, but school board member Shannon Kimball expressed concern about the reliability of the data used for the student absenteeism piece. She noted the district’s attendance data includes counting students as present when they are quarantining at home but still able to attend class virtually, which could give a false sense of security when it comes to student being affected by the virus.

In light of her concern, the board directed district administration to craft a new method to consider the data, such as installing a weighting system that gives some criteria more credence over others.

Julie Boyle, spokeswoman for the district, told the Journal-World on Thursday that the district administration is expected to share that updated plan with the board during its meeting on Monday. In the meantime, the district will continue to use the health department’s guidance, she said.

The health department’s up-to-date school guidance can be found on its website, Department officials said the guidance will be updated each Thursday.

Contact Dylan Lysen

Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact reporter Dylan Lysen:


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.