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COVID quarantines are canceling sports, closing more Kansas schools to in-person class

Wichita eagle logo Wichita eagle 9/23/2020 By Jason Tidd, The Wichita Eagle

More Kansas high schools are canceling sporting events due to coronavirus exposure and team quarantines in what may be the start of an uptick in cases due to Labor Day.

The effects of the pandemic are being felt in small towns, big towns and cities. From Atwood to Derby to Overland Park, cases of COVID-19 and quarantines of close contacts are affecting sports and education.

Some classes have been sent home. A few schools have moved to online only learning after starting in-person. Several have been forced to cancel athletic activities.

Both Haysville and Derby have quarantined football players, but Derby hasn’t canceled Friday night’s game while Haysville has. Chanute canceled football games, but is continuing in-person classes against the recommendation of the state’s reopening guide.

In Atwood, the school board overruled the superintendent’s decision to move everything remote, only to reverse course again. In Overland Park, parents are protesting after elementary school students were sent home.

It is likely too soon to know whether the cases that led to the quarantines are the start of something larger. If these schools are the start of a new trend connected to Labor Day, it won’t come as a surprise to the state’s top doctor at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Coronavirus pandemic, school clusters and Labor Day

Last month, KDHE Secretary Lee Norman said he expected to see a rise in cases linked to Labor Day gatherings.

“Anything that drives gatherings of people has had a demonstrable increase, usually four to seven days after the gatherings or the gathering weekend is when the cases start materializing,” Norman said. “The data entry lags just a little bit because it takes some time for people to get tested and then results to come back, so we’ve been seeing kind of an uptick in 10 to 14 days.”

“I absolutely predict that people will drop their guard again and we’ll see an uptick. It will be very unfortunate timing if it puts the next peak at the time when people are entering school.”

Monday, which was two weeks since the holiday weekend, featured quarantine notices at two Wichita-area schools. Several Wichita-area public school districts waited until after the holiday to start classes.

The Kansas governor said on Labor Day that she feared large outbreaks of COVID-19 connected to schools.

“As we come off a holiday weekend, as our children return to school, as sports practices resume and students flood back to college campuses, I fear we will continue to see these large outbreaks,” Gov. Laura Kelly said.

The KDHE is expected to identify active coronavirus clusters on Wednesday. Many will likely be left off the list due to various criteria, including privacy. Outbreaks with five or more cases at schools and on sports teams should be included.

Derby and Haysville football players quarantined

Both Derby and Haysville have had at least one COVID-19 case on their football teams.

A quarantine at Haysville’s Campus High School has canceled the upcoming varsity football games against Maize South and Andover. Junior varsity and freshman games against those schools are still scheduled.

The decision was made “Due to USD 261 District Covid-19 quarantine requirements that a positive test result and those having close contact with any person with a positive test result are quarantined,” school administrators said in a Facebook post.

In neighboring Derby USD 260, high school administrators have not canceled Friday night’s game against Salina South, which saw its first case of COVID-19 on Monday.

Derby’s team went into a mandatory quarantine, district officials said Monday, after two confirmed cases at the school. Students from certain classrooms were also sent home. Administrators said the quarantine was “temporary” and that the school had asked the health department to further investigate whether it was necessary.

“The game on Friday has not been canceled at this point because the Health Department is working with one of the students who tested positive to determine who close contacts are or if the entire team has to remain in quarantine,” the district Facebook post read. “We should have updated information from the Health Department soon. The current quarantine was the direction provided to us by the Health Department and will stay into effect until their investigation is completed.”

The news of coronavirus cases affecting the football team was first reported by the student newspaper.

“About 20 players told yearbook and newspaper staffers Monday morning that the football team was told it would be quarantined through Oct. 1,” the Panther’s Tale reported.

On Tuesday, the coach said only eight varsity players remain quarantined after contact tracing.

The district’s COVID-19 guide calls for no communication with the general public on confirmed cases at school. Specifically, it states “Derby Public Schools will not inform the entire school of a positive case.” Derby’s school board delegated their initial reopening decision to a committee that met in secret last month.

Comments on the district’s Facebook post accused school administrators of prioritizing football over education.

“Why on earth would people in the same class be sent home but the football game is still up in the air?” asked one person. “Welcome to Derby, where precious football is more important than education.”

“Close contact identification is decided in partnership with the Health Department,” Derby officials replied. “The priority is not football, it is ensuring they have the opportunity to properly identify close contacts of the positive case and not take more individuals out of school than necessary.”

Abilene and Atwood schools move remote, cancel sports

Abilene USD 435 Superintendent Greg Brown said Monday in a statement that all classes will be remote for two weeks. Four adults in the district have tested positive and another four feel sick and are waiting on test results. The positive tests combined with quarantine orders have necessitated online learning.

“Please understand this is absolutely the last thing we want to do,” he said. “We understand how important it is to have our students in school, receiving a first-rate educational experience, but COVID-19 has struck our teachers and support staff significantly.”

That also means no sports practices or competitions until at least Oct. 5, high school athletic director Will Burton and middle school athletic director Derek Berns said in a statement. They said the halt in extracurricular activities was because of cases among staff and students, as well as quarantines.

“Going into this season, we knew we were in a contentious situation,” the Abilene athletic directors said. “The goal was to put our best foot forward to try and have activities for our students.”

“Personal responsibility in helping mitigate COVID by students and adults both at and away from school is the only way we can continue.”

Rawlins County public schools in Atwood were confronted with a pandemic decision last week. The day the district found out about multiple cases at school, Superintendent Eric Stoddard moved all classes online and canceled all sports activities for two weeks.

But the USD 105 board of education reversed course at a special meeting that same night. They decided junior and senior high students would return to in-person classes and extracurricular activities could resume. By Friday, the board members changed their minds, deciding that school needed to go remote for at least a week.

The board “made its decision based on multiple active cases of COVID in each school, active cases of COVID within district operations, and based off of a large number of students and staff in quarantine,” Stoddard said in Friday’s update.

El Dorado, Winfield, Chanute, Independence and Fort Scott cancel sporting events

At El Dorado USD 490, the high school soccer team is in quarantine under the Butler County Health Department after a potential coronavirus exposure. School administrators said Monday that soccer games have been postponed and may be rescheduled.

In Winfield, it’s the high school volleyball team that had practices and matches suspended. Two student-athletes tested positive over the weekend, USD 465 officials said on Monday.

Fort Scott, Independence and Chanute in southeast Kansas all canceled football for two weeks prior to last week’s varsity games.

The Fort Scott and Independence cancellations came after a Fort Scott player tested positive following a game between the two schools.

“It was determined that our whole HS football team needed to go into quarantine because football is considered a high risk activity and KDHE has decided if there is student/athlete who participates in a high risk activity and is positive for COVID-19 then the whole team and the team they competed against will need to be quarantined,” Fort Scott USD 234 Superintendent Ted Hessong said.

That meant the Independence team also has to quarantine.

Chanute’s cancellation announcement made no mention of the coronavirus. The connection was identified by their would-be opponent, Jefferson West High School in Meriden, which said Chanute’s football team was quarantined due to positive cases.

Arkansas City and Overland Park quarantine classes

All preschool students at Roosevelt Elementary in Arkansas City on Friday were banned from in-person classes for two weeks after someone tested positive. Earlier that same week, Arkansas City USD 470 officials announced an entire class at Frances Willard Elementary had in-person classes suspended for 14 days.

In Overland Park, more than 100 people have been told to quarantine due to being in contact with a COVID-19 case at Blue Valley’s Timber Creek Elementary School.

“Our overarching goal is to keep students in school, which means that we must prevent the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in a school,” the Johnson County Health Department’s director said in a letter to the school district. “... It is very important to adhere to quarantine recommendations, so the spread does not become wider, impacting even more people.”

Several parents protested the quarantine during a Sunday rally organized by a pediatrician who called the quarantine a “massive overreaction.”

School reopening COVID-19 data

The Kansas State Department of Education created a color-coded matrix as a gating criteria guide for local school districts. The green-yellow-orange-red classification has green as the most lenient zone and red as the most restrictive.

Two metrics — the local hospital capacity and the student absenteeism rate — do not have clear data available to the public.

The other three — the positive test rate, the county incidence rate and the trend in the incidence rate — are measured by the KDHE and the Sedgwick County Health Department. A weekly report from the local health agency with those three metrics was not available on Monday.

As of Friday, the two-week county incidence rate as reported by the KDHE was 117 new cases in Sedgwick County per 100,000 population. That is in the orange zone and a small increase from last week.

In the Wichita area, Sumner County was also in the orange zone while Harvey County was in the yellow zone. Butler, Cowley, Kingman and Reno counties were all in the red zone.

The trend in that rate is another reopening criteria. Sedgwick County’s trend increased in the last week after decreasing the previous week. The rate would likely be considered stable and in the orange zone.

The two-week positive test rate was 5.80% in Sedgwick County as of Friday, which is in the yellow zone and a small decrease from last week. Reno and Sumner counties were also in the yellow zone while Kingman County was in the red zone. Butler, Cowley and Harvey counties were in the green zone.

Of the state’s 105 counties, 57 have at least one red indicator from the positive test percentage or the incidence rate.

The worst data points were in Cheyenne County in the northwest corner of the state. Both its positive test rate and its incidence rate were several times higher than the red zone thresholds at which the state recommends canceling all sports and moving all classes online.

Cheyenne County’s positive test rate was 66.15% — more than four times the red zone threshold of 15%. The county incidence rate was 1,543 new cases per 100,000 people — more than 10 times the red zone threshold of 150 new cases.

There is no requirement that school districts follow the reopening guide.

After the football team quarantine in Chanute, classes continued this week in the least-restrictive green zone of school reopening, despite three of five pandemic indicators suggesting local conditions warrant a change.

A USD 413 gating criteria document showed Neosho County’s trend in new cases was in the yellow zone, the positive test rate was in the orange zone and the rate of new cases compared to population was in the red zone.

“There is no magical formula, there is no algorithm that is driving this,” a district video explains of the decision-making process. “Rather, this is humans making decisions using the best information that we have available.”

While Chanute continues with in-person school despite a red zone indicator, Abilene has moved online. Dickinson County has a red zone indicator from the incidence rate.

“No one intentionally acquires/passes COVID-19,” Abilene’s athletic directors said. “Please use these 14 days as a reset period. Be pro-active. Take precautions. Limit contact with others. Wear masks. Practice social distancing.

“If we don’t, we will find ourselves back where we are today.”

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©2020 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)

Visit The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.) at www.kansas.com

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