Douglas County’s school virus guidance drops to lowest tier for first time since August

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

The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department announced Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, that it was lowering its school guidance recommendation to the green tier, which allows for fully in-person or hybrid in-person instruction. The guidance also allow for all activities and athletics to continue as long as standard health precautions are taken.

For the first time since August, the Lawrence-Douglas County health department’s guidance for schools operating during the coronavirus pandemic has dropped to its lowest threat level.

Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health announced Thursday that it was lowering its recommendation from the yellow tier to the green tier, which allows schools to use fully in-person or hybrid in-person instruction. The guidance also allows for all school activities and athletics to continue as long as standard health precautions are taken. 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.

According to the health department’s data released on Thursday, the average positivity rate for the coronavirus in the county has fallen to 4.6%, a drop from 5.2% last week. The average positivity rate is a key indicator for the guidance and falling below the benchmark of 5% helped lead to a drop to the green tier. Along with the average positivity rate, the average number of new cases in the county has also fallen, from to 18 to 17.

Dr. Thomas Marcellino, Douglas County’s health officer, said in the health department’s announcement that he was grateful to see the data trending in the right direction, and he credited the community taking proper safety precautions amid the pandemic.

“The community has really stepped up to help get us back to Green,” Marcellino said in the announcement. “We are grateful for that, and we are asking people to keep it up so we can stay in this phase.”

Douglas County communities have also seen a decrease in their local positivity rates. Lawrence’s rate has fallen to 4.4%, Eudora’s rate has fallen to 5.2%, and Lecompton’s rate has remained at zero. However, Baldwin City saw its local rate increase to 7.5%.

For about two months, the health department recommended that the county stay in the yellow tier of the school guidance, which called for hybrid in-person instruction and prohibiting competition for “high risk” athletics, such as football and soccer.

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 has generally continued, and the guidance has now fallen to green for the first time since local districts began school in early September.

The change in guidance also comes the same week that the Lawrence school district, the largest in the county, began its transition to hybrid in-person learning. Lawrence began its school year with six weeks of fully remote learning, but on Monday it began a four week phase-in process to move its students to a hybrid learning model.

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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