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Updated Monday

Record isolation totals triple as unprecedented COVID surge continues

Staff writer

An unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases saw a record 366 county residents in isolation Monday — almost triple the record number of just a week ago.

In the past week, COVID has canceled classes at Peabody and Goessel schools, led to a mask mandate in Hillsboro schools, canceled sports events, and added Marion and Peabody schools to just nine others identified statewide as COVID “clusters.”

One out of every 32 people in Marion County is now under isolation orders with active cases of COVID-19, the county health department confirmed Monday.

That’s 77 more than were in isolation Thursday and 116 more than were in isolation a week ago.

Even more troubling, the record number this Monday undoubtedly understates the true depth of the latest outbreak as it does not include those who don’t notify the county after finding that they are infected by using home tests or who simply avoiding testing because others in their household are known to have confirmed cases.

The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday prevented state officials from updating statistics, but before the holiday the total number of new COVID cases recorded each day since last Monday had been exceeding all previous single-day records for the entire run of the pandemic.

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

Tuesday’s record number along with Monday’s 23 new cases, Wednesday’s 21, and Thursday’s 19 all exceeded the highest single-day peak of last year and are likely to grow.

They also are likely to understate the problem.

Daily tallies from Kansas Department of Health and Environment, last updated at noon Friday, 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 ago 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 lagged behind statewide rates, the overall infection rate — the percentage of the population that has come down with COVID — is now at 22.2% or higher. 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 complete data for the latest week, which ended Sunday, has not yet been posted, 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 last 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 was canceled as was Hillsboro’s Friday night games.

Classes were to resume Tuesday in the Peabody-Burns district but with a new mask mandate requiring junior and senior high school students to wear masks and maintain 3- to 6-foot social distancing.

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

The Peabody-Burns 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, continued to meet.

All Goessel 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.

A cryptic message on Centre’s website Monday afternoon urged parents and students to check their email for “important information regarding COVID testing.”

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 the 7% level are left up to the school board, but it has not met. No automatic actions are triggered in Hillsboro 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 visited for a basketball game Friday night.

Ell-Saline school district, the boys and girls teams of which defeated Marion’s teams Friday night, imposed a mask mandate through Monday. At Friday’s game at Ell-Saline, spectators and coaches were required to wear masks.

It was announced before the game that spectators would not be allowed to enter or remain in gymnasium stands if they were not wearing masks properly.

Otherwise, no changes in Marion school activities were announced on school social media feeds except that Tuesday games in the Centre Classic basketball tournament were being moved to Marion.

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 last 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. 17, 2022

 

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