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Updated Friday

Massive COVID surge hits county, sending record numbers into isolation and closing some schools

Staff writer

An unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases has sent a record 288 county residents into isolation, canceled classes at Peabody and Goessel schools, led to a mask mandate in Hillsboro schools, and added Marion and Peabody schools to just nine others identified statewide as COVID “clusters.”

One out of every 41 people in the county are currently under isolation orders, the county health department confirmed Friday, and the total number of new COVID cases recorded each day since Monday has exceeded all previous single-day records for the entire run of the pandemic, according to state data.

Local school and health officials did not announce the surge to media. It was discovered during routine checking of state and county data and of mining of schools’ social media feeds for parents and students.

According to state data, the county recorded a record 33 new cases on Tuesday — 9 more than the previous single day record, set the Monday after Thanksgiving this year.

Tuesday’s record number plus Monday’s 23 new cases, Wednesday’s 21, and Thursday’s 19 exceed the single day peaks of last year’s pandemic and are likely to grow.

Daily tallies from Kansas Department of Health and Environment are based on the dates when symptoms began. Because of delays in testing and reporting, KDHE warns that numbers for the most recent seven days are preliminary and may underestimate the size of any new outbreak.

Before Nov. 4, the single-day record for new cases was 18, set more than a year earlier and equalled just before Christmas a year ago. Since Nov. 4, that record has been matched or eclipsed seven times.

What previously had been regarded as COVID’s peak period — November through mid-January a year ago — saw the county record 637 cases. The same period this year has seen 812 cases — a 27.5% increase over last year’s record levels.

Other areas of the state have been experiencing COVID surges as well. However, COVID appears to be more virulent in Marion County than it is in the state as a whole.

In Marion County, which at one time had lagged behind statewide rates, the overall infection rate — the percentage of the population that has come down with COVID — is now 22.2%. Statewide, it is more than a full percentage point lower.

Since Nov. 15, weekly totals of new cases in Marion County have exceeded case totals from the same week last year. That’s happened for only a few of those weeks statewide.

Even though the current week, ending Sunday, is not yet concluded, the total already has exceeded by 15.4% the record for any entire seven-day period since the pandemic began 1½ years ago.

Marion Middle and High School and Peabody-Burns High School were included among 11 schools officially listed Wednesday as COVID “clusters” statewide. Goessel schools almost without question will qualify for inclusion on the list when it next is updated this coming Wednesday.

Peabody-Burns canceled all classes and activities Wednesday and extended that cancellation to include Thursday and Friday. A Monday basketball game also has been cancelled.

Day care and vocational-technical classes in Newton were included in the cancellation, but a basketball game planned for Tuesday against Centre continues to be emphasized by the district in its online and social media feeds.

The district blamed the closure “not only on staffing shortages of essential certified and classified positions, but also on student illness and absenteeism, which includes COVID and non-COVID related absences.”

Teachers still were ordered to report for work.

Goessel canceled junior high basketball Thursday night and all junior high and high school classes Friday. Goessel’s elementary school, kindergarten through fifth grade, will continue to meet.

All school activities at all grade levels Thursday through Monday were canceled. A teachers’ work day, originally planned for Monday, was moved to Tuesday, cancelling all classes until Wednesday.

Centre closed its school office Tuesday and asked all elementary students through fourth grade to begin wearing masks for the next 10 days.

Hillsboro went further, not merely requesting but requiring that all students, staff members, and visitors to Hillsboro Middle and High School wear masks inside the school building starting Friday and continuing for eight days.

Test results for Hillsboro students have come back slightly more than 10% positive in the middle and high school, automatically activating the mask requirement. Test results in elementary school were slightly more than 7% positive — above the 6% level at which masks are considered optional and three-foot (as opposed to traditional six-foot) social distancing is encouraged. Actions at that level are left up to the school board. No automatic actions are triggered unless the positivity rate reaches 10%, as it has for middle and high school students.

Despite being listed as a COVID “cluster,” the only change reported for Marion schools was imposed by a school Marion will visit for a basketball game Friday night.

Ell-Saline school district, which Marion basketball teams will visit Friday night, has imposed a mask mandate through Monday. At Friday’s game at Ell-Saline, all spectators and coaches must wear masks. Spectators will not be allowed to enter or remain in gymnasium stands if they are not wearing masks properly.

Otherwise, no changes in Marion school activities were announced on school social media feeds.

In January, school board members changed policies so that students exposed to COVID could remain in school without masks if they had a documented case of COVID in the previous six months.

Board members made no changes to that policy at their meeting Monday despite the middle and high school being included on the state’s short list of cluster sites.

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Last modified Jan. 15, 2022

 

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