While many Kansas K-12 school districts’ COVID-19 numbers continue to swell, the cases in USD 413 have virtually evaporated over the past two weeks. After peaking with 28 active cases in late August, that number has since dwindled to four.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported Wednesday a total of 63 active outbreaks at schools throughout the state, and a total of 400-plus new cases. Both of those totals are more than doubled from KDHE’s previous reporting a week prior.
KDHE only publicly identified nine of the 63 clusters. Despite two of their three buildings exceeding the state’s threshold to be categorized as an active outbreak, it did not name Cherryvale-Thayer USD 447.
USD 413, meanwhile, released a fresh set of Gating Committee data on Thursday, derived from the committee’s meeting a day prior. For the week of Sept. 8-14, the report reflected three positive cases. The district has since added one to that total, with two student cases and two staff cases.
As it pertains to the Gating Committee’s reporting of the original three cases, 11 individuals were exposed. Eight of those exposures took place in a home/daycare environment, while three others occurred in a classroom setting. A total of 19 individuals were tested, while two declined testing.
In addition to USD 413’s administrative team, the Gating Committee consists of multiple other individuals from Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center and the Neosho County Health Department. Those two entities serve as an advisory board to 413’s administrative team.
“They provide guidance and opinions regarding the execution of various COVID-19 protocols based upon the experiences within their field — making it applicable to our situation within the school setting,” said Superintendent Kellen Adams, noting that the entities also serve as a conduit for KDHE, Kansas State Department of Education and other agencies. “It allows for anecdotal evidence of lived experiences from within our buildings.”
Having now met five times since the start of the fall semester, NMRMC has been represented by five individuals and NCHD by two. After their weekly meeting in early September, the district elected to switch from a districtwide mask-optional policy to mandatory masking, which took effect Sept. 7. Adams cited a sizable decrease in attendance when compared to the same timeframe last year as the overriding reason for the change.
“The players at the table from each agency are essentially unchanged,” Adams said. “However, while the focus last year was with regard to whether or not schools should remain open (or pivot to hybrid or remote instruction), the focus this year is on mitigating the spread of COVID-19 within schools. As a result, the primary focus thus far this year has been on procedures and protocols to help maintain normal activities wherever possible.”
The information utilized by the Gating Committee to make COVID-19 protocol decisions is deduced from multiple elements within the district, as well as other external factors.
Those are attendance data from the district’s student information system, PowerSchool; contact/quarantine data from Google forms/sheets, the district’s independent tracking mechanism; hospital bed capacity as directly reported from NMRMC; and the county’s death/quarantine data as reported directly from NCHD.
Adams said the Gating Committee is the district’s go-to resource when it comes to decision-making on the health and safety of its students and staff.
“Put simply, the decisions made regarding masking policy and/or any other COVID-19 related policies are made by the administrative team, and ultimately approved by the superintendent,” he said. “The Gating Committee has, and will continue to, serve as the primary resource for guidance and direction. While we will continue to synthesize information from other reputable sources, our district has decided that the Gating Committee will serve as the primary resource going forward.”
While the names of those representing NMRMC and NCHD have not been divulged, Adams lauded both entities for their work on the Gating Committee.
“I wish to personally say thank you to each organization and the individuals that are involved in these weekly calls,” he said. “We fully realize the additional burden of preparation, as well as attendance in their already-busy lives. Each agency has done a wonderful job of providing meaningful, and useful input — both last year, as well as this year.”
Since the school year began Aug. 12, USD 413 has reported a grand total of 54 positive cases and 378 close-contact exposures. The district’s current positive case-count includes one student each from Chanute High and Chanute Elementary School, as well as one staff member apiece from CES and Lincoln Early Learning Center. Among the 25 individuals currently under quarantine restrictions, nearly half are from CES. The data further reveals that 15 of the 25 were deemed to be from outside or household exposures.