Amid rising cases in the state of Kansas and Douglas County, it is clear that the hybrid schooling model is no longer safe.
We’ve known about this anticipated “second wave” since summer. Public health experts predicted that cases would heighten in the flu and cold season when we would be forced inside where the virus would more easily spread. They were right.
It’s important and valuable to hear all opinions, but the simple fact is that we cannot ignore health experts, who are clearly stating that county and state data are entering a danger zone.
The Douglas County Health Department is now reporting an 13.8 percent test positivity rate. This is a record for the county with the last spike in cases reaching 9.4 percent following the return of KU students.
Following that data, we expect Douglas County to enter the orange zone later today, which according to the health department guidelines would include a recommendation we return to remote learning. Superintendent Anthony Lewis also stated in a video message to students and families on Oct. 2 that should Lawrence enter the orange zone, we would return to remote learning.
There are those who will passionately argue for the district to continue with a hybrid option, and surely that would be better for those struggling with remote learning. But these decisions are for the good of the overall community. We must return to remote learning.
Currently, the Douglas County Health Department is reporting a total of 3,636 cases, with 650 of those cases still active. Between Wednesday and Thursday, Douglas County added 112 new cases, with 22 cases becoming inactive.
Lawrence Memorial Hospital announced in a community report that it, and other hospitals in the area, have an “elevated sense of concern” as more ICU beds fill up. This is dangerous because not only does it hinder the hospital’s ability to treat coronavirus cases, but it could also take resources away that are necessary for treating patients “from car accidents, cardiac issues, and other serious health issues,” as reported by LMH. It’s in everybody’s best interest to keep coronavirus cases low as to not hamper the hospital’s ability to treat everyone and everything.
For those in the school building, wearing masks is an important precaution and necessary action to take, but it doesn’t eliminate the risk. This has become evident after Tuesday’s news that four staff members had contracted the virus.
That wasn’t our school’s first brush with COVID-19. Following a positive COVID-19 test on the Lawrence High football team, the team as a whole did a commendable job on halting practices and encouraging players to follow quarantine guidelines. We were lucky that Dodge City — in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak — opted to forfeit its most recent post-season game against us — and that the extent of the problem was clear before a match-up took place.
As winter sport tryouts approach next week, concerns should be elevated as those close-contact sports move inside. Although the Kansas State High School Activities Association has issued guidance for winter activities, the precautions that are being recommended are insufficient. KSHSAA guidance is heavy on advice for cleaning equipment while light on requirements for mask usage, especially during athletic competitions when athletes aren’t required to wear masks. This is an airborne disease. Does it really matter how you clean a basketball if students are allowed to go maskless while they play right next to each other?
During the fall, mask enforcement was left up to individual coaches which led to some coaches and players going without masks or proper social distancing. This disregard for the health of not only coaches and players but the overall Lawrence community is unacceptable. If people want to continue in-person activities, whether that be sports, hybrid learning or music groups, they must take this virus more seriously. We are demanding the district to be more strict when enforcing masks, social distancing and proper sanitation.
Although it would be frustrating for student athletes and their families to experience a delay in their sports season — or miss out on the experience of a sports season overall — halting interactions with high exposure is necessary for the greater good of not just Lawrence High but the community. Athletes will be put at an increased risk with transmission when sports are forced inside for the colder months, especially when COVID-19 is already spreading rapidly in our community. By continuing the risk that comes with this, we put student athletes in danger — and that puts the whole community at greater risk.
We must recognize the sacrifices that we have all made.
Almost everyone’s extracurricular activities have been impacted by this pandemic, such as theater students, who are performing their next play online from separate spaces. Scholarships will be affected for everyone wanting to show off their talents, not just those relying on sports for their education. This will most certainly be taken into consideration by colleges and universities. COVID-19 isn’t just something happening in Lawrence, Kansas. It’s a global pandemic, and things will be different.
Lastly, a message to the USD 497 school board: Do not cave to pressure from those who advocate for fully in-person learning. You know it is not safe, and you must make your decision with science in mind.
What they advocate for is simply not the safe choice. Remote learning isn’t perfect, but it can help save lives. This pandemic will end, but until things are safer, we must make decisions for the greater good.
This story was updated shortly after being posted to reflect new data.