Douglas County school virus guidance remains in yellow tier as local cases, positivity rates rise

photo by: Webpage screenshot/Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health

The Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health announced Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, that it was increasing its school guidance recommendation back to the yellow tier, which calls for hybrid in-person learning and prohibiting competitions for "high risk," athletics.

Guidance to Douglas County schools on how to operate amid the coronavirus pandemic will remain the same for another week as key indicators began heading in the wrong direction.

Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health announced Thursday that it was keeping its recommendation in the yellow tier, which calls for hybrid in-person instruction and prohibiting competitions among “high risk” athletics and activities. 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.

Last week, the health department upgraded its guidance to the yellow tier after spending just one week in the green tier, which allows for fully in-person classes and all athletics and activities to continue.

But the guidance could increase in severity again in the near future as both the local 14-day average positivity rate and 14-day average of new cases have risen since last week.

According to the data provided by the health department, the average positivity rate has increased from 5.2% to 8.5%. With the significant increase, the positivity rate is not far from reaching the 10% threshold that would send the guidance to its orange tier, which would call for school districts to go back to fully remote learning and prohibit all athletics and activities.

Additionally, the average number of cases has risen from 16 last week to 24 this week, providing the first significant increase in the indicator in months.

In light of the increases, Dr. Tom Marcellino, the county’s health officer, called on the community to follow public health guidelines, such as wearing masks and physically distancing, to keep the spread from worsening.

“Our strength in Douglas County throughout the pandemic has been our community’s willingness to protect others, especially with very good mask usage and social distancing,” Marcellino said in the announcement. “Now is the time to be extra vigilant in practicing those behaviors to work to get the positive momentum back.”

photo by: Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health

Douglas County’s 14-day moving average test positivity rate for COVID-19 as of Nov. 5

Along with the county’s overall positivity rate increase, all of the county’s communities saw their local positivity rates increase. Lawrence’s rate rose from 5.1% to 8.1%, Baldwin City’s rate rose from 5.7% to 8.1%, Eudora’s rate rose from 6% to 10% and Lecompton’s rate rose from 6.1% to 15.4%.

For most of the fall semester, the health department recommended that the county stay in the yellow tier of the school guidance. The health department originally upgraded to the yellow tier 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 the low 40s, but it began to decline at the beginning of September.

Since then, a decline in the average positivity rate and number of cases had generally continued, with the guidance in October falling to green for the first time since local districts began school in early September. But the green tier was short-lived only lasting a week before the positivity rate and number of cases began to rise again.

The increases this week come as the Lawrence school district, the largest in the county, is almost finished transitioning from fully remote learning to a hybrid in-person learning model. Beginning Monday, all grade levels will have returned to school buildings after a four week phase-in process.

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.

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