COVID statistics holding relatively steady as KU students return; Girod praises mask-wearing efforts

photo by: Kevin Anderson/Journal-World File Photo

The Lawrence-Douglas County health department's home at the Community Health Facility, 200 Maine St., is pictured in this file photo from July 2010.

It has been just more than a week since KU students returned to classes on the Lawrence campus, but despite the thousands of new residents in town there hasn’t yet been a resulting boom in COVID cases.

The latest numbers released by Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health show relatively stable COVID metrics for Douglas County, but serve as a reminder that the virus is still claiming victims. One new death was reported since Monday’s report, bringing the total to 89 deaths. The health department said the latest fatality was a woman in the 65 to 74 age range.

Overall, the community continues to be in the second of three warning tiers for the pandemic.

The county is in a code yellow rating, which is when the number of cases added is between 25 and 50 per day, using a 14-day rolling average, or when the number of active cases in the community is between 501 and 1,000. When cases top either one of those points, the community would move into a code red ranking, which is when public health officials would likely seek a communitywide mask mandate and might seek to impose other gathering restrictions. Alternatively, if case numbers fall below the lower ranges, the community would move to a code green, which is when most restrictions could be removed.

“Both of the metrics have us in yellow today, but they also are both closer to green than they are to red,” Dan Partridge, director of Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, said.

Partridge spoke to the Journal-World prior to the afternoon release of the latest COVID statistics, but those statistics were largely unchanged from previous numbers that Partridge based his comments on.

New figures released Wednesday show that the 14-day moving average of new cases was 33.4, up from 33 on Monday. The number of active cases in the community was listed at 710, up from 672 on Monday. Partridge said he has been pleased that the 14-day moving average has largely stayed in the 30 to 35 range for a few weeks.

“I liken it to the stock market,” Partridge said. “You don’t want to get too nervous about small movements up or down on any given day.”

He also said there had been some downward movement in the number of active cases in the community, although Wednesday’s number was back up again.

The keys to holding the numbers down have been some good news on the vaccination front, as well as continued mask wearing. Partridge said preliminary vaccination numbers from KU have been pretty good.

“The early reports we have gotten from KU have made me optimistic,” Partridge said.

KU Chancellor Douglas Girod on Wednesday said numbers are still being crunched, but he believes the vaccination rate for students living in the dorms is now at about 75%. Previously, KU had said the vaccination rate for dorm residents was about 70%.

At a 75% level, those KU students likely are vaccinated at a higher rate than the general population of Douglas County. Partridge estimated that the percentage of Douglas County residents who are eligible to be vaccinated who actually have been vaccinated is “close to 70%.”

The fact that KU numbers seem to be coming higher than that is “wind in the sails” for the community, Partridge said.

Partridge said he thinks a “philosophical disconnect” that centers on whether vaccines are effective or safe is what’s holding Douglas County’s vaccination numbers from being higher. He said the disconnect has long existed in Douglas County, but the COVID pandemic has heightened the issue.

Partridge said increased vaccinations will be a key to avoiding moving into a code red, where communitywide mask mandates would be considered.

“Our hope is the vaccinations that are happening will keep us from getting there,” Partridge said.

Masks are also playing a role, with the two largest organizations in town requiring masks indoors — Lawrence public schools and the University of Kansas. On Wednesday, Girod said in a video message to the campus community that he was pleased with the amount of mask wearing he sees on campus.

“We are doing a remarkable job complying with the indoor mask mandate on campus,” Girod said. “I’ve been real impressed with that. It is really appreciated.”

Other COVID numbers released by the health department on Wednesday included:

• 14 people are hospitalized at LMH with COVID, unchanged from Monday’s numbers.

• The positivity rate of people tested is 4%, up from 3.2% on Monday.

While most of the metrics have been relatively steady over the last couple of weeks, they are up significantly from the beginning of August when the county launched the color-coded system for the community. On Aug. 4, the 14-day moving average was at about 26 and the number of active cases was at 487.


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