WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Even as some of the state’s largest districts reopen, most Kansas counties have such a high rate of new coronavirus cases that they have moved into the red zone on a key state benchmark that suggests schools consider putting the brakes on in-person classes and sports.
Seventy-five of the state’s 105 counties were in the worst reopening zone for the two-week cumulative incident rate, which measures the rate of new cases per 100,000 people and is one of five school reopening indicators established by the state, The Wichita Eagle reports. That’s an increase of 10 counties from a week ago, according to a Kansas Department of Health and Environment map published Monday using data through Saturday.
Individual districts aren’t bound by the state gating criteria and can make their own reopening decisions, often with guidance from county-level health officials.
The KDHE case rate map also placed 11 counties in the yellow zone and 16 counties in the orange zone. Under the state’s gating criteria, a blend of in-person, hybrid and remote learning is recommended in these zone. The state also urges restrictions on sports, especially high-risk activities such as football.
The number of counties in the green zone, which is the only zone that calls for all in-person classes and extracurricular activities, dropped from seven to three on the case rate map.
Among the districts sending students back to in-person classes this month are several in Douglas and Johnson counties, which are in the red zone for new cases. But the counties are in the yellow zone for the percent positivity rate.
Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly called a meeting for Wednesday with eight leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature to have them extend the state’s existing declaration of a state of emergency for the coronavirus pandemic.
A law enacted in June requires Kelly to obtain an extension every 30 days from the lawmakers, six of them Republicans. Without their approval, the current emergency declaration would expire Oct. 15.
Top Republicans and Kelly have been at odds over her handling of the pandemic, and GOP lawmakers have forced her to accept local control of decisions about reopening schools, mandating mask wearing and restricting businesses and public gatherings. When she and the legislative leaders met in September to extend the emergency declaration, Republicans extracted a promise that she wouldn’t try to close businesses again as she did in the spring.
The state health department reported that Kansas saw 1,597 new confirmed and probable coronavirus cases from Friday to Monday, an increase of 2.5%, bringing the total cases to 62,708. The number of coronavirus cases is thought to be higher because people can be infected without feeling ill and because of limited testing early in the pandemic.
The department also reported eight new COVID-19-related deaths since Friday, bringing the total to 706. Deaths have continued to represent about 1.1% of the total number of reported cases.
Despite the rise in cases, Wichita schools will now allow parents and other fans to be spectators at sporting events, The Eagle reports. Sedgwick County, where Wichita is located, also is in the red zone for its case rate.
Board member Mike Rodee voiced the most concern with the plan, though he voted for it. He also questioned whether COVID-19 indicators will worsen in the county “because we’re being a little bit selfish about watching a football game.”
“I want to see kids in classrooms and on the field, and I don’t want to shut those things down. The parents are about the 10th priority to me on this,” he said, adding that he understands the point of view of parents. “I want to see kids in the classroom more than I want to see parents in the stadiums.”