Health department’s education guidance remains in yellow; Lawrence school district to continue allowing ‘high risk’ athletics

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

A screenshot of the Lawrnece-Douglas County Health Department's school reopening guidance on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, shows an upgrade to the guidance's yellow tier, which calls for hybrid learning options and prohibiting some "high risk" activities, such as football and soccer competitions.

Public health guidance to Douglas County schools will remain at its second level, the yellow tier, for another week, the local health department said Thursday in its weekly schools update.

But the Lawrence school district will still conduct sports competitions that are recommended to be prohibited under the guidance, a district official said.

In Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health’s color-coded schools guidance, the yellow tier recommends that schools conduct classes through hybrid learning options and prohibit “high risk” sports competitions, such as football and soccer. The guidance is meant to help county districts navigate reopening schools and conducting activities as the coronavirus pandemic continues into the fall semester.

George Diepenbrock, a spokesman for the health department, said Thursday the guidance was staying in the yellow tier because the county’s COVID-19 infection rate had risen past 6%. The education guidance specifies that the county is in the yellow tier when the countywide infection rate is more than 5% but less than 10%.

However, the health department’s data also showed that the 14-day moving average for new cases per day has continued to fall. As of Thursday, the average of new cases per day over the past 14 days was around 27, which is a steep decline from the high 30s and low 40s in recent weeks.

Diepenbrock noted the health department also is now providing infection rates for each community in the county. According to Thursday’s data, Lawrence and Eudora both have local infection rates slightly higher than 4.5%, while rates in Baldwin City and Lecompton are both about 3.5%.

The highest infection rate, clocking in at 8.2%, is assigned to “other cities.” Diepenbrock said that is a designation for anyone who tested positive who did not list an address in any of the four cities in Douglas County. He said the 8.2% is most likely due to the health department working with the University of Kansas and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to count KU’s entry tests of people who did not have a Lawrence address.

“We wanted to ensure they are counted here because they are in our community now,” Diepenbrock said. “We will be looking at that graph to see if there is a better way to display that, but today we wanted to publish it to help school districts make their own decisions using the guidance.”

This week will be the second week that the guidance has been in the yellow tier. Previously, the guidance was in the green tier, which is the lowest threat level, allowing for in-person classes and all activities and athletics to continue as long as standard public health measures are taken.

The health department upgraded its recommendation to yellow last week after seeing a spike in average new cases per day, which was largely due to KU’s testing of students and faculty. At its peak, the 14-day average of new cases per day reached up to the low 40s, but it began to decline last week.

The health department’s up-to-date school guidance can be found on its website, Department officials said the guidance will be updated weekly on Thursdays.

Sports to continue for now at Lawrence schools

Despite the guidance remaining in the yellow tier, the Lawrence school district will continue allowing high-risk sports competitions for the time being. That will allow the Lawrence High School and Free State High School football teams to begin their seasons on Friday.

Last week, after the initial change from green to yellow, the Lawrence school district announced it would be canceling sports competitions that were considered high risk. However, a day later, the district reversed course and announced it would allow them to continue for at least two more weeks and would evaluate the situation on Sept. 10. District spokeswoman Julie Boyle said Thursday the plan had not changed, but she said the district is concerned that the infection rate has increased recently.

“The district is concerned about the increase in the percent of positive cases in the community and urges the community to join us in preventing the spread of the disease by wearing a mask, staying at least 6 ft. apart, washing hands, covering coughs/sneezes, and staying home when ill,” Boyle said in an email.

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