Douglas County school virus guidance downgraded to yellow tier as districts head into winter break

photo by: Sylas May/Journal-World Illustration

Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health’s guidance for schools operating during the COVID-19 pandemic has been downgraded to the yellow tier.

The health department announced the downgrade in its weekly update on Thursday and now recommends for county schools to also use hybrid or fully in-person learning models.

Prior to Thursday, the health department’s guidance had been in the orange tier since Nov. 12, which called for schools to use hybrid in-person learning and to prohibit “high risk” athletics and activities.

The health department said in a news release that the 14-day positivity rate for the virus and the 14-day average number of new cases both fell, leading to the downgrade. The positivity rate fell to 3%, which is below the 5% threshold that would suggest a yellow tier recommendation, while the average number of cases fell to 46.

However, the department noted the county still has 931 active cases of the virus.

“Our number of active cases are still high, and we would ask community members to continue to mask up, practice social distancing, wash their hands and stay home and call their provider if they begin to feel sick,” the department said in the news release.

The health department’s school guidance can be found on its website, ldchealth.org/457/Smart-and-Safe-School-Reopening and is updated on Thursdays.

This week’s update only applies to a few schools in Douglas County, as winter break is approaching. Both the Baldwin City and Eudora school districts will have two days of school next week, according to their district calendars. Meanwhile, the Lawrence and Perry-Lecompton school districts end their fall semesters after school on Friday and will be closed next week. Lawrence students will be off from school until Jan. 7, while Perry-Lecompton students return on Jan. 6.

Additionally, Lawrence recently adopted its own virus guidance, which was finalized during the school board meeting on Monday. Julie Boyle, spokeswoman for the district, said the guidance will be updated on Thursdays as well.

The district’s recommendation on Thursday remained in yellow, but has improved since Monday, when the guidance debuted. When the guidance was adopted on Monday, research and evaluation director Zachary Conrad said the guidance produced a 2.2 average score, placing the district’s recommendation in the yellow tier. On Thursday, Boyle said the updated data produced an improved 1.9 average score, but remained in the yellow tier.

The district’s yellow tier calls for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade classes to use hybrid or fully in-person learning models, while sixth grade through high school classes are recommended to use hybrid.

The Lawrence guidance can be found on its website, usd497.org/coronavirus.

Perry-Lecompton also recently updated its gating criteria, and uses similar information and methods to make a recommendation, according to the district’s website. Without school for the next few weeks, the district said it will next review the gating criteria on Dec. 30 to determine how to begin its second semester.


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