Schools reel as COVID cases triple; nearly half of county nursing home staffers fail to get vaccinated
A surge in COVID-19 to nearly triple the cases in the county a year ago is sending students home into quarantine weeks after they started school.
As the county health department noted the jump to 41 active cases Tuesday, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment released dismal data of its own: One-third of workers in the county’s care homes are not vaccinated.
County health nurse Wanda Manickam said the surge in cases was no surprise.
“When cases dropped, many people let their guard down,” she said. “I think we are seeing that now.”
Case statistics for the same week last year show a backslide in progress. The county added 29 new cases of the virus this week, a jump from 10 in 2020.
A cluster of COVID-19 that forced Centre High School to cancel its volleyball match after three tested positive capped a week in which district schools sent nearly 10 into quarantine.
District superintendents were firm Tuesday that students who test positive be sent home for 10 days.
Centre superintendent Larry Geist said the positive cases were in different classes and separate buildings. Sixty-five close contacts also were tested.
The district’s school board voted in an emergency meeting Tuesday to enact a “Test to Stay” program that would allow exposed students to stay in school if they are tested daily.
Marion has a similar plan for students who have been exposed to the virus by classmates or close contacts, district superintendent Aaron Homburg said.
“If you want to come, you will need to get tested daily and wear a mask,” he said.
Marion has had five test positive since the start of school.
“Four of the five are asymptomatic,” he said. “Students who test positive are not allowed to ride school buses or attend school.”
Marion, Centre, and Peabody-Burns all have rapid testing programs.
Hillsboro is working to roll out its own.
“We don’t test yet,” district superintendent Max Heinrichs said, adding the district had three positive cases. “I am writing up the protocols to get that moving.”
The district school board plans to take up the issue during its monthly meeting Sept. 13.
Peabody-Burns still requires all students to wear masks, district superintendent Antoinette Root said. Peabody only has had only two test positive.
The district recently began administering antigen tests and is working on hiring a school nurse.
Manickam said the surge in cases county wide had prompted many to get vaccinated.
“There are more people every week that haven’t had the vaccine,” she said.
Meanwhile, little more than half of staff members at county care homes are vaccinated.
St. Luke Living Center in Marion reported 66% of its staff were vaccinated; Peabody Health and Rehab, 65%; Salem Home in Hillsboro, 59%; and Bethesda Home in Goessel, 57%.
Representatives with Access Mental Health, Bethesda Home, and Parkside Homes were repeatedly contacted but did not respond to questions about their COVID-19 protocols by press time.
Peabody Health and Rehab administrator Melissa Parmley told a reporter to consult the care home’s web site, but no relevant information could be found there.
St. Luke director Janet Herzet said visitors to the living center were required to set up a time and day for their visit and must be screened as they enter the building. Several may gather in a gazebo but must wear masks.
Families may take residents on outings, but staff would like to be informed in advance.
She declined to respond to questions about efforts to encourage staff to be vaccinated.
Lisa Donahue, marketing and fund development director for Salem Home, said staff have been encouraged to get vaccinated and 100% of residents have been.
All staff and visitors must wear masks in the building.
Families are allowed to see residents but must log in and have their temperature checked as they enter.
Unvaccinated staff are tested for the virus twice a week.
“I think we have been exceptionally lucky we have not had all the problems with COVID-19, but we also have been very careful,” she said.
The care home has had only one resident test positive for the virus, she said.
“That was way in the beginning, and they are still with us today,” she said.
Additional reporting was done by Madeline Reida.
Last modified Sept. 1, 2021