Kansas sees schools moving online, crowd size reductions

August 21, 2020 GMT

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two large Kansas school districts moved classes online for middle and high-schoolers while public health officials in Topeka imposed stricter crowd size limits to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The Wichita school district, the state’s biggest with more than 50,000 students, will give the parents of elementary students the option of taking classes in person or online, the district’s board of education decided Thursday in a 5-2 vote. Blue Valley, with 22,000 students, announced Friday that elementary students can return to class in a hybrid model in which they will attend classes part of the week and learn from home the rest.


But older students in both districts will begin the year with online instruction only.

Wichita also canceled fall sports, and Blue Valley, where more than 100 football players at one of its high schools were placed in quarantine because three people tested positive, suspended sports beginning Saturday. The neighboring Shawnee Mission School District, with 27,000 students, decided to suspend sports and extracurricular activities earlier this week.

In the Topeka area, Shawnee County will decrease the limit on indoor gatherings where social distancing is not possible to 25 people from 45 people and reduce the limit on mass public gatherings to 500 from 2,000, or 50% of a site’s capacity, whichever is smaller. Also, officials are recommending that people who are over 65 or who have health conditions that compromise their immune systems to stay home.

The county has 1,928 cases, an increase of 208, or 12.1% since Aug. 14, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The local health department released a new statistical index Friday that said the community spread of the virus is high.

County Health Officer Gianfranco Pezzino told reporters during a news conference that the department doesn’t know the source of as many as half of the new infections, and that’s troubling.

“We have way too much virus going around in our community,” Pezzino said.

Statewide, the number of confirmed and probable cases rose by 966 from Wednesday to Friday, for a total of 36,856. The number of deaths increased by eight to 419.

The state averaged 3,300 coronavirus tests over the past seven days, and 15.3% of them were positive. The state’s rate of positive tests has been inching up steadily since late June, and for the pandemic, it stands at 10.1%.

Health officials are closely watching colleges and universities, which have five clusters, with 57 cases. At Emporia State, three students who underwent testing at the school’s health center had received positive results, said spokeswoman Kelly Heine. Kansas State University, meanwhile, plans to ask 10% of its about 2,700 students living on campus to get tested each week of the fall semester, said Kyle Goerl, the medical director at the university’s student health center.


But Friday’s numbers did contain some good news: The rolling seven-day average for new reported cases, though relatively high at 424 for the seven days ending Friday, was 13.6% lower than the pandemic-worst figure of 491 for the seven days ending Monday.


Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas. Andy Tsubasa Field contributed from Topeka.