Health department’s school guidance remains in yellow tier for sixth straight week

photo by: Website screenshot/Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department

The Lawrnece-Douglas County Health Department annoucned on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020 that it's guidance to schools would remain in the yellow tier for a sixth straight week. The yellow tier recommends schools use hybrid learning options.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department’s guidance to schools will remain constant for a sixth-straight week.

The health department on Thursday announced the guidance would remain in the yellow tier, which recommends schools use hybrid learning options and prohibit “high-risk” athletic competitions and activities. However, key indicators guiding the health department’s recommendation to Douglas County schools have again moved in the right direction.

According to the health department’s data released on Thursday, the average number of new cases in the county has fallen slightly to about 17, which is just slightly up from the 16 reported last week, but a drop from where it was earlier in the week when it was at 18. The average positivity rate for the virus in the county has fallen to 7.3%, a drop from 8% last week.

Additionally, the county saw 195 cases of the virus become inactive on Thursday, which accounted for roughly 35% of the amount of cases reported on Wednesday. But another 51 new cases were reported on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases to 411, which is still a significant drop from the 555 cases reported on Wednesday.

George Diepenbrock, a spokesman for the health department, said the drop was expected.

“We also had a large number of cases become inactive today,” Diepenbrock said in an email announcing the guidance. “Given the increase in the number of cases identified a few weeks ago, we expected a large number of cases to start to become inactive around this time.”

photo by: Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department

The Oct. 1 COVID-19 update from the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.

Although key indicators for the guidance are heading in the right direction, it does not appear the county will be moving to its green tier soon. To get there, the average positivity rate would need to fall to 5% or lower.

In August, the guidance was in the green tier, which is the lowest threat level, allowing for in-person classes and all activities and athletics to continue as long as standard public health measures are taken.

The health department upgraded its recommendation to yellow on Aug. 27 after seeing a spike in average new cases per day, which was largely due to the University of Kansas’ testing of students and faculty. At its peak, the 14-day average of new cases per day reached up to the low 40s, but it began to decline at the beginning of September.

Since then, a decline in the average positivity rate and number cases has generally continued but not enough to move back into the green tier. Additionally, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Wednesday named Baldwin High School and Bishop Seabury Academy as virus outbreak locations.

That is borne out in the county’s data on local positivity rates, as Baldwin City has a local rate of 11.7%, the highest in the county. Elsewhere, Eudora had a 8.3% rate, Lawrence had a 6.5% rate and Lecompton had a 4.2% rate.

Despite that, the Baldwin City school district continues to provide education through its hybrid model, but its superintendent said this week that it may need to shut down because of a teacher shortage caused by faculty quarantining to slow the spread of the virus, the Journal-World has reported.

Meanwhile, the other schools in Douglas County will soon be increasing the amount of time students attend in-person classes. The Lawrence school district, the largest in the county, earlier this week decided it will begin its hybrid learning model on Oct. 19, when its initial six weeks of remote learning is scheduled to conclude.

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

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