By Jessie Wagoner
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) has launched a new public dashboard that tracks rates of COVID-19 and vaccinations in Kansas School Districts. The dashboard, which is updated three times a week, provides information for local health officials and school districts to make informed, data-driven decisions to control the spread of COVID-19 among students.
The dashboard includes all cases of COVID-19 among school-aged children, ages five to 17 years, during the last 14 days. It does not indicate where a student was exposed or that transmission occurred in the school setting. The dashboard also tracks the cumulative COVID-19 vaccination rates among school-aged children.
“With so much misinformation being shared about COVID-19, this school dashboard provides a simple tool to help school districts keep track of what is happening locally and across the state,” said Dr. Jennifer Bacani-McKenney, co-chair of the Safer Classrooms Workgroup. “We will continue supporting our teachers and school boards by providing timely, fact-based data so they can set strong policies to protect their kids, teachers, and staff.”
As of press time, the following information was available via the dashboard. McPherson Public Schools has 25 presumed student cases, Inman has one case, Moundridge has one case, Smoky Valley has no cases, and Canton-Galva has five cases.
While the state is now tracking COVID-19 cases among school children, there is still no centralized tracking of students quarantined. KDHE is not tracking the number of students quarantined, so there is no way to know how many students are currently quarantining at home, how many are attending school under a modified quarantine or how many should be quarantining and are not.
To complicate matters more, school districts throughout the state are all handling quarantines differently. Families in McPherson County report various quarantine requirements between McPherson, Moundridge, Inman and Canton-Galva.
“There is no consistency,” one parent whose child attends schools in Canton-Galva said. “So far this school year my son has been exposed at school on two occasions. After the first exposure, he could go to school but had to wear a mask. After the second exposure, he could only go to school if he tested negative every day before school or he would have had to be in full quarantine. I’m not sure why the two instances are different, and no one can tell me.”
In McPherson, some parents report their children can attend school, wear a mask and social distance while on modified quarantine.
“My son goes to school and wears his mask,” Kara Coons, mother of a high school student said. “He waits in the lunch line with other students but then eats his lunch alone. He has been able to do extracurricular activities.”
Though her high school student was able to do a modified quarantine, her elementary student had to quarantine at home. This poses additional issues for parents who must then find childcare or miss work to supervise their quarantined child.
“It has been a challenge,” Coons said. “I am out of vacation and sick time. I had to take unpaid time from work.”
Trisha Alexander’s son, also a student at McPherson High School, was recently in quarantine and could attend school but was not allowed to play football.
“He went to school every day, but no one took his temperature, he wore a mask and he had to miss football practice and the football game,” Alexander said.
Parents are also expressing frustration about the lack of information they are receiving from KDHE when their child is quarantined. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the responsibility for quarantine enforcement falls to federal, state and local health authorities. In Kansas, that would be KDHE and local community health departments. Federal quarantine guidelines do not grant schools the ability to issue quarantines; however, some parents aren’t receiving calls from KDHE but are only receiving notice from the schools.
“KDHE or the county health department should be the ones to call parents,” Coons said. “That doesn’t happen because they are overwhelmed. But all of this shouldn’t fall on the districts to deal with.”
“We spoke with an attorney, and it isn’t legal for the schools to issue the quarantine,” Alexander said.
KDHE did not respond to the McPherson News-Ledger’s questions via call or email. The only clear information regarding quarantine guidelines from KDHE that can be found on their website outlines the following two options for quarantine:
Quarantine with testing
- After exposure, monitored daily (self-monitoring or active monitoring by Public Health) for seven days. Are only eligible for shortened quarantine if you have no symptoms.
- On or after day six, may get a PCR test (antigen and antibody tests are NOT allowed for this purpose) – if negative, can be removed from quarantine after day seven (7).
- Must remain asymptomatic (no symptoms)
Quarantine without testing
- After exposure, monitored daily (self-monitoring or active monitoring) daily for 10 days. Are only eligible for shortened quarantine if you have no symptoms.
- After day 10 can be released from quarantine without a test.
- Must remain asymptomatic (no symptoms)
- All exposed people should self-monitor for fourteen (14) days from exposure and contact healthcare provider if symptoms develop. Disease can still develop through day 14.
- The 14-day quarantine period after an exposure is still the best recommendation.
-CDC is not changing the incubation period for COVID-19.
-Guidance for a shortened quarantine period is aimed at increasing compliance
- Shortened quarantine does NOT apply to residents of long-term care and assisted living facilities and does NOT apply to offender populations in prisons. These types of settings are high risk for outbreaks and house some of our most vulnerable populations.
- Each county Local Health Officer has the ultimate decision on whether to adopt the shortened quarantine guidance.
COVID cases in McPherson County have remained steady over the last week. As of press time, there are 99 active cases throughout the county. Of those cases, five people are currently hospitalized, with the remainder recovering at home. There was one new death reported this week, which brings the total to 91 deaths in McPherson County related to COVID-19.