Douglas County school virus guidance remains in orange tier as key indicators begin to decline following recent surge
photo by: Sylas May/Journal-World Illustration
Douglas County schools will be able to continue using forms of in-person learning for at least another week as the average number of new COVID-19 cases began to drop this week.
Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health announced Thursday that its guidance to schools would remain in the orange tier for a second straight week. The guidance recommends county schools continue using hybrid in-person learning methods and prohibit some “high-risk” athletics and activities.
“We have found that if all the adequate restrictions with masks, distancing and spacing are in place, schools can operate with reduced risk,” Dr. Thomas Marcellino, the county’s health officer, said in the announcement.
The Lawrence school board canceled a special meeting scheduled for Thursday evening in light of the update. Julie Boyle, spokeswoman for the school district, told the Journal-World in an email that the district will continue with hybrid learning next week. The district only has two days of classes next week because of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
While the health department’s guidance will remain in the tier with the second highest severity for another week, it may be viewed as a positive. Last week, Dan Partridge, director of the health department, told the school board that it was possible the guidance would be elevated to the red tier this week. That would have resulted in a recommendation for all schools in the county to move to remote learning and to cancel all activities and athletics.
But key indicators for the school virus guidance began heading back in the right direction this week, as both the average number of new cases and average positivity rate for the virus began declining.
photo by: Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health
According to the health department’s data, the 14-day moving average of new cases per day sat at 59 on Thursday, down from a peak of 64 earlier this week. Additionally, the average positivity rate fell from 13.8% last week to 11.5% this week.
The average positivity rate is not far from the 10% threshold of sending the guidance back to the yellow tier, which is where the guidance has been most of the fall semester.
photo by: Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health
However, with Thanksgiving coming up, health officials fear that cases may begin rising again in the near future if people travel to see families and do not follow public health guidelines, such as wearing a mask and physically distancing themselves.
In its announcement Thursday, the health department noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, released guidance to help mitigate spread of the virus ahead of the holiday. The CDC suggested people should not travel to celebrate Thanksgiving, according to the Associated Press.
“As cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with,” the CDC said in its guidance.
Additionally, local health officials said during a town hall on Tuesday that they expect COVID-19 inpatients at Lawrence’s hospital to increase by 500% over the next two weeks, the Journal-World has reported. As of Thursday, 29 patients at LMH Health had COVID-19.
For most of the fall semester, the health department recommended that the school guidance stay in the yellow tier, which allowed for hybrid in-person learning and some activities and athletics. In recent weeks the county began seeing significant increases in new virus cases, leading to the elevation to the orange tier.
However, last week the health department announced changes to the guidance, allowing for hybrid in-person learning to continue while in the orange tier. Originally, the orange tier called for schools to move into fully remote learning.
The change did not sit well with the Lawrence school board members. During a special meeting last week, they expressed frustration with health officials about the changes coming on short notice, but they ultimately decided to follow the guidance. Additionally, the district is considering the health department’s suggestion that wrestling should be canceled this winter because of concerns that it cannot be done safely, the Journal-World reported.
The health department’s color-coded guidance is meant to help county school districts navigate reopening schools and conducting activities as the pandemic continues during the fall semester. The up-to-date guidance can be found on the health department’s website, ldchealth.org/457/Smart-and-Safe-School-Reopening. Department officials said the guidance will be updated each Thursday. However, next week it will be updated on Wednesday because Thursday is Thanksgiving.
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