Virus challenges sports programs as Kansas schools prepare to reopen

photo by: Associated Press

Lee Norman, Kansas secretary of health and environment, speaks to the press at the Statehouse during the coronavirus pandemic at a weekly briefing, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Topeka, Kan. (Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

Story updated at 4:26 p.m. Thursday

As schools prepare to reopen, sports teams are offering an early glimpse into the challenges of protecting students from the coronavirus.

Nine clusters have been tied to sports, with 64 cases as of last week, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Wyandotte County announced Thursday that it is barring non-professional athletes from competing this fall in football, volleyball and soccer because of virus concerns. The order also bars marching band events. The district in Kansas City, Kansas, called off its fall sports season earlier in the week. The order applies to all public schools in the county, in addition to private schools, higher education and non-professional sports clubs and organizations.

“We recognize the impact of cancelling sports and it is regrettable that the virus has not been contained enough to allow non-professional sports to proceed at this time,” said Dr. Erin Corriveau, deputy medical officer with the Unified Government Public Health Department, in a news release.

Meanwhile, Colby Public Schools Superintendent Katina Brenn said in a statement that one or more people who attended mandatory meetings last week for fall sports have since tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, The Wichita Eagle reported.

Masks won’t be required for students in the district when classes start next week after the Thomas County Commission rejected an executive order by Gov. Laura Kelly last month. An opt-in and opt-out form from the district gives parents the choice of requiring their student to wear a mask or banning their student from wearing a mask.

Statewide, the number of infections rose by 817 from Monday to Wednesday, for a total of 32,547. COVID-19-related deaths increased by eight to 395. The number of infections is believed to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and experts believe people can have the virus without feeling sick.

While nursing home outbreaks remain deadly, including one that has infected 12 and claimed a life at the Wichita Center adult care home, cases among young people are a growing concern. State health officials said 37 is the median age of those infected.

“Young people are not invincible, and if we can communicate one thing it is that mass gatherings are still a problem, worse actually than ever,” Dr. Lee Norman, the state’s top public health official, said Wednesday.

Jails and prisons have also been particularly hard hit. At the Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility, 43 inmates tested positive and have been moved to the Lansing Correctional Facility, the Kansas Department of Corrections said Thursday. A day earlier, the department announced that nearly 100 inmates and staff at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility tested positive this week.

“Families are understandably anxious, and we want them to know that we will be working hard to ensure the health and safety of their loved ones,” Corrections Secretary Jeff Zmuda said in a news release. “We continue to stress with our staff and residents the importance of adhering to our mask protocols, good hand hygiene and social distancing.”


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