As a new fall school sports ban was announced today, affecting football, soccer and volleyball, and marching band events, some Piper residents were upset.
“We know the news released today by the Wyandotte County Health Department regarding fall sports is upsetting,” Piper Superintendent Jessica Dean wrote on the school district’s social media page.
Dr. Dain wrote that they received the final version of the new order at the same time it was released to the public today, and they were reviewing the order with legal counsel. They will develop a plan for fall sports according to the guidance they receive, she wrote.
Some of the discussion at the 5 p.m. Unified Government Commission meeting centered on the Piper school district and sports. The new rule on fall sports applied to public and private K-12, college and amateur sports clubs in Wyandotte County. It does not apply to professional sports. It goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 14.
The schools in Wyandotte County are also under an order not to open until after Sept. 8. The Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools have previously decided to suspend all fall KSHSAA sports.
Under today’s health order, activities and sports that are allowed include debate, cross-country, golf, tennis, spirit team, if they adhere to KSHSAA rules and wear masks, and follow other guidelines in the order.
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” Commissioner Mike Kane said at the 5 p.m. UG meeting.
He said a Piper soccer club, with a couple hundred kids, may just hold its games in another county – they already play a lot of games there anyway, he added.
He asked if the Health Department could do an evaluation every two weeks or so, to see if they can start letting the kids play sports.
“I feel bad for the seniors and the opportunity they could or could not have,” Commissioner Kane said. “At the same time I want all of Wyandotte County to be as safe as possible.”
Currently, he is getting a lot of pressure from parents, he said. “Some people absolutely don’t like it,” he said. Piper has built up its sports programs during the past decade, and last year, it was the state boys’ basketball champion in Class 4A.
Parents suggested in comments on the school district’s Facebook page that possibly the high school athletes could play games in another county.
Also asking about the level of communication the Health Department had with school districts and superintendents was Commissioner Melissa Bynum.
She said the order made her “sad” for all the senior athletes in particular. “It’s just so, so much to ask of students,” she said.
Dr. Allen Greiner, chief health officer for Wyandotte County, said the Health Department had several months of meetings with the educational institutions in the county, including different levels. They put together detailed plans for school reopening. They didn’t get into the specifics of addressing sports with the school reopening order, but everyone knew a decision was coming on sports. There was a meeting last Wednesday with school district superintendents and representatives, he added.
He said they were “kicking this around” almost 10 days and told the superintendents in a phone call.
“We agree with you, this is very sad, a horrible thing to have to do in regard to our education programs. The way programs work, social interaction is a huge part of learning and growing,” he said.
Dr. Greiner said he was concerned that students could pass the virus back and forth by yelling and having direct physical contact. The coronavirus can be spread as people talk, and keeping a 6-feet distance is important.
“We are seeing relatively young people die from this virus,” Dr. Greiner said.
He said if they get to a very low level of transmission, they could change a lot of things.
Mayor David Alvey said that when professional teams such as Sporting KC and the Royals restart, they bring a lot of money to create bubbles, control players’ behavior outside the team and do a large amount of testing. Some college conferences are questioning whether they can accomplish that and are canceling their seasons, he said.
“Schools simply don’t have those resources,” Mayor Alvey said. “More and more research is showing children can be infected, can transmit diseases at a high level, and it’s starting to show up more and more.”
He added he has received calls from teachers who are concerned about returning to class, that even with health measures, they may not be able to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Having worked at the high school level for 31 years as an administrator and coach, Mayor Alvey said he understood and appreciated deeply how important sports are to students, and what it means to the parents and community. It is difficult to have to focus on the virus, but the sooner they stomp it down, the better, he said.
Dr. Greiner said decisions are made with a variety of data, including the 7-day rolling average of cases, the hospitalization count, the number of intensive care unit beds, the number of ventilators used, the death rate, plus looking at clusters to see how many there are and how big they are.
If they see outbreaks of cases in schools or in sports, they will be concerned. If there are case transmissions from youth or teams to grandparents who are then hospitalized, that’s also a bad sign, he said.
He said he would like to work with members of the community to get the case numbers down, to help enforce the mask order and to convince people who are ill to stay home.
In answer to a question from Commissioner Brian McKiernan, Dr. Erin Corriveau, deputy health officer, said that the health order does not prevent anyone from playing games outside the county, only in Wyandotte County.
She said she hopes people who live here would follow the health order and not play elsewhere. People who come into the county would need to adhere to the local order, and it would be the responsibility of the school to get the message to the opposing team, she said.
In answer to a question from Commissioner Christian Ramirez, Dr. Corriveau said it is their understanding that the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools can issue more stringent rules than the health order.
Dr. Charles Foust, KCK superintendent, told the KCK school board at its most recent meeting that the school board had the final authority over whatever health measures it wanted to implement, and over sports.
The state attorney general on Aug. 11 issued an opinion saying that local school boards had the authority to do what they wanted concerning the health orders at the schools. The UG attorney, however, did not agree.
Ken Moore, UG attorney, at tonight’s meeting said they have looked over the statutes governing school boards and local health officers. School board statutes make them subject to all other laws, he said, while health officers’ powers come from a broadly-based statute.
“Our opinion is that (health officers’ orders) would control, but the school board could enact more stringent orders,” he said.
Wyandotte County reported 5,089 total cumulative cases on Thursday afternoon, an increase of 58 cases since Wednesday, according to the UG’s COVID-19 webpage. There were 102 deaths, no increase from Wednesday.
Although Johnson County has a higher number of positive cumulative cases, over 6,000 at this point, Wyandotte County has the highest rate per 100,000 positive cases in the metropolitan area, according to Juliann Van Liew, Health Department director. The rate is 3,061 per 100,000 here as compared to 1,026 in Johnson County and 993 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Wyandotte County rate is three times as high as surrounding jurisdictions.
The 7-day rolling average of cases is a very positive trend, having declined since July 16, and is now around 44 cases a day, she said.
The 7-day rolling average of deaths also remains very low, she said. The last five deaths have all been among 50-year-olds, she said.
The number of tests that come back positive out of the entire number of tests has hovered around 20 percent for about a month, she said.
“We know the disease is still pretty prevalent in our community,” she said.
They continue to see large numbers of COVID-19 cases in the American Asian population, Dr. Greiner said. There has been a reduction in the rates among African Americans, he said.
Overall, there is not much change in the ethnicity case rates from previous reports, he added.
Free testing is offered from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Unified Government Health Department parking lot at 6th and Ann, Kansas City, Kansas. For more information, call 311.
Today’s Health Department sports order is online at https://alpha.wycokck.org/files/assets/public/health/documents/covid/08132020localhealthofficerorderregardingsports.pdf.
For more information on who may be tested and what to bring, visit https://wyandotte-county-covid-19-hub-unifiedgov.hub.arcgis.com/pages/what-to-do-if-you-think-you-have-covid-19.
The Wyandotte County school start order is online at https://alpha.wycokck.org/Coronavirus-COVID-19-Information.
Wyandotte County is under a mandatory mask order and is in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan. For more information, residents may visit the UG COVID-19 website at https://alpha.wycokck.org/Coronavirus-COVID-19-Information or call 311 for more information.
The CDC’s COVID-19 web page is at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.