Health department’s school guidance remains in yellow tier for fourth week, but key indicators heading in right direction

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

Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department's guidance to schools remains in its yellow phase for a fourth straight week, the health department announced on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020.

For a fourth straight week, Lawrence Douglas-County Public Health has kept its education guidance in its yellow tier, which calls for schools to use hybrid learning options and prohibit “high risk” sports such as soccer and football. But the key indicators that guide the health department’s recommendation to county schools are heading in the right direction.

As part of its weekly update, the health department announced on Thursday that the school guidance would remain in the yellow tier for another week. The color-coded guidance is meant to help county school districts navigate reopening schools and conducting activities as the coronavirus pandemic continues into the fall semester.

In the update, the health department reported the county’s 14-day average positivity rate is at 8.5% while the 14-day moving average for new cases per day has fallen to about 18.

While the positivity rate is still higher than 5%, which is the threshold for the yellow tier, it has improved from a week prior. Last week the health department reported a positivity rate of 9.7%, which is not far from the 10% threshold to move to the orange tier of the guidance. That tier would have recommended for all athletics and activities to be canceled and for all classes to move to fully remote learning.

The average of new cases per day has fallen significantly over the last month. In late August, around the time that the University of Kansas tested thousands of people returning to campus, the health department reported an average in the high 30s and low 40s, which contributed to the guidance move from the green tier to the yellow tier on Aug. 27.

With both the positivity rate and new cases average both declining, the countywide indicators are now moving in a direction that could see the guidance move back into the green tier, which would carry a recommendation that all athletics and activities continue and fully in-person classes resume.

The positivity rates in specific Douglas County communities have all seen a decrease as well, with Lawrence currently having a 8.8% positivity rate and Eudora having a 4.6% rate. Last week they came in at 9.9% and 8%, respectively.

Lecompton’s positivity rate has fallen from 6.2% last week to 3.3% this week, while Baldwin City’s rate has fallen from 5.5% to 1.7%.

George Diepenbrock, spokesman for the health department, did not immediately respond to the Journal-World’s request for comment Thursday afternoon.

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

USD 497 allows sports to continue

Despite recommendations provided by the health department, the Lawrence school district will continue to allow high-risk sports, including football and soccer, while the county is in the yellow tier, district spokeswoman Julie Boyle said in an email.

The decision may have been expected, as the district last week allowed for athletics and activities to continue when the positivity rate and new case average were higher. The school district started its school year with six weeks of fully remote learning and is not expected to return to classrooms until mid-October at the earliest.

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