Local COVID cases on the rise; general population testing positive at greater rate than KU students

photo by: Celia Llopis-Jepsen/Kansas News Service

Samples ready for COVID-19 testing are pictured at a Kansas laboratory.

As school has started, COVID case numbers in Douglas County are creeping up, but the latest figures indicate University of Kansas students currently are producing a fraction of the new cases.

Both Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health and KU updated their COVID numbers on Friday, and the new statistics showed that the overall Douglas County community is producing positive test results at a greater rate than KU currently, although the organizations are reporting on slightly different time periods.

Over the last 14 days, 3.9% of COVID test results have come back positive in all of Douglas County. At KU, for the last seven-day period ending Sept. 1, 2.65% of all tests on KU students have come back positive, KU reported.

During that seven-day period, 12 KU students or staff members have tested positive. Overall in Douglas County, 92 new cases have been reported in the last two days. Again, the reporting periods for KU and the county don’t exactly match, so direct comparisons are somewhat limited.

But KU officials continue to see signs of good COVID practices on the Lawrence campus. KU spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said 81% of all residents in KU student housing are vaccinated. Earlier this week, Chancellor Douglas Girod estimated the number at 75%, and KU had estimated it closer to 70% when students began moving into dormitories in late August.

At 81%, KU’s student housing population almost certainly has a higher rate of vaccination than the Douglas County population as a whole. Earlier this week, Dan Partridge, director of Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, estimated that about 70% of all Douglas County residents eligible for vaccination have completed the vaccination process.

KU doesn’t have an estimate on vaccination rates for its entire student population because state law prohibits the university from requiring students to show a vaccine passport as part of their attendance. KU contends state law also prohibits the university from requiring vaccinations.

However, KU is urging students to voluntarily upload proof-of-vaccination forms, which enter students into drawings for prizes totaling about $235,000 in value. On Friday, KU released its first data on the proof-of-vaccination forms. Just over 50% — or nearly 11,300 students — have uploaded vaccination cards as of Friday.

Barcomb-Peterson, though, said KU was confident that the percentage of KU students who actually are vaccinated is higher than that 50% mark.

“We are still working to spread the word about the program, and we know that the pool of students who have been vaccinated but haven’t yet chosen to upload a card is still sizeable based on anecdotal evidence and other data,” Barcomb-Peterson said via email.

She said university officials expected to see a strong uptick in registrations in the weeks ahead.

“We’re still encouraging all students who have been vaccinated to upload their cards, and we feel that we’re off to a good start as we compete with all the other demands on our students’ attention during the first two weeks of the semester,” Barcomb-Peterson said.

KU continues to offer prizes, such as cash, a semester’s worth of tuition, and Apple and other technology products, to students who provide proof of vaccination or get vaccinated at one of the vaccination stations on campus.

The university on Friday announced that Santiago Patino, a fifth-year student from Eureka, Mo., in the master of architecture program, won $5,000 in cash for uploading his proof-of-vaccination form.

Here’s a look at other COVID data released by the two organizations:

• Douglas County has added an average of 36.5 new cases per day, using a 14-day rolling average. That number is up from 33.4, when the county released its numbers on Wednesday. The new numbers appear to represent the first time the 14-day average has been above 35 since the February time frame, according to a chart the health department produces. However, the 14-day average still firmly has the county in a code yellow ranking, the second of a three-tier ranking system that measures the severity of the COVID outbreak in the community. A 14-day average of more than 50 cases would push the community into code red, which is when public health officials likely would seek a countywide mask mandate and might seek to impose other gathering restrictions.

• Douglas County has 749 active COVID cases, which is up from 710 on Wednesday and 672 on Monday. That metric is pushing Douglas County closer to a code red designation and a possible mask mandate. If active cases rise above the 1,000 mark, the county would move to the code red category and possibly face the new restrictions and mandates.

• 16 people currently are hospitalized for COVID at LMH Health. That’s up from 14 on Wednesday.

• KU has provided a breakdown of positive test results based on patient type for the seven-day period ending Sept. 1: Four are traditional KU students, five are student-athletes and three are faculty or staff members.

• KU also has provided data on the number of KU students who are in isolation or quarantine as of Aug. 26. At that time, 11 students were in isolation, which is the protocol for people who have tested positive or are suspected to have the virus. There were five students who were in quarantine, which is the protocol for people who are unvaccinated and who have had close contact with someone who has tested positive.

The KU numbers in quarantine are starkly different from the numbers in Lawrence public schools. The Journal-World reported on Friday that there were an estimated 400 students in quarantine in the K-12 public school system in Lawrence. The Journal-World reported earlier this week that the process KU and the public school systems are using to determine when a student should be labeled a close contact — and thus subject to quarantine — are significantly different.

While KU numbers currently are relatively low, it often takes 14 days for COVID symptoms to begin showing up. KU is just now entering its third week of classes. In addition, the university is entering a new phase of activity with large-scale sporting events starting with Friday’s KU football game.

The university previously said it would consider requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test result to enter certain events, such as games, but has not moved forward with such a policy.


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