Editorial: As COVID-19 cases rise, we must keep frustration in check

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

One of the many good things about wearing a mask is it allows us to mouth all types of surly statements and make all forms of menacing grimaces while no one else is the wiser. It is a good tip to remember as both COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 frustrations spike in Douglas County.

Frustrations were clearly on display at the recent Lawrence school board meeting. Several board members were frustrated at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department’s change in standards related to the COVID-19 guidance for schools. While Douglas County moved into the more precarious orange alert level, the health department changed its stance on whether in-person classes should be allowed during the orange level. It now says such in-person classes are acceptable if certain mitigation strategies also are practiced.

While the tone of the board meeting really didn’t cross any lines — it is fine for public entities to be frustrated and frank with one another — let’s hope that the relationship doesn’t devolve from there. It is important that the public has trust in the local health department, and the school board has a role in helping maintain such trust.

It is worth remembering that the health department has no apparent motive to make recommendations that run counter to good public health. Yes, they are human and at risk of bending to public pressure, but the same can be said of the school district. That fact should help build mutual respect between the two entities. So should this: Health department leaders seem genuine in their belief that having in-person classes is important to the health of the community, and certainly school board members are taking their responsibilities to students and staff seriously.

That doesn’t mean every decision has gone as we would like. But as this page has said before, it will be helpful if we all have patience, perseverance and perspective during this pandemic.

Clearly, though, the pandemic demands another “p-word”: planning. It is fair to ask whether enough planning is happening right now. School district leaders do crave more information, and that is a reasonable request. School district officials, for example, can make better decisions with information about how many of the county’s COVID-19 hospitalizations can be linked back to a school site. Local health leaders also need to be as clear as possible about Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s capacity, and when we are getting near a tipping point. There will be a point when that number demands we take more stringent action.

An article by Journal-World reporter Rochelle Valverde presents information that creates questions about more basic planning matters. The article reports that the state of Kansas currently has no data available on how long it is taking the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to call close contacts of people who have tested positive for COVID-19. A spokeswoman said the goal was to do so within 24 hours of receiving the list of close contacts from disease investigators.

That is a fair enough goal, but is there anything more useless than a goal made in 2020? The state needs to measure its actual performance because you only improve what you measure. Contact tracing is critical. It is how you prevent a case from becoming an outbreak, an outbreak from becoming a super-spreader.

The article also reports that both state and county health department officials now believe they likely will need more employees to do contact tracing. They may start hiring some soon. But it is fair to ask why those decisions are being made now. While much has changed with the virus, it is has long been the prevailing opinion that a spike was likely as winter approached. It also is true that the both the state and county have received large amounts of federal CARES funding that presumably could be used to hire contact tracers for this period.

Yet, perspective is still important. We all are dealing with a situation that we’ve never dealt with before. Hopefully a better national strategy will emerge with Joe Biden’s administration, but the health of the nation depends on all of us working hard in the meantime to create the best environment we can in our communities. That hard work will include a lot of bumpy paths, stubbed toes and immense frustration.

So, let’s all wear a mask for both virus and venom control.


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