The Unified Government Health Department issued some new guidelines for schools and sports on Friday.
The new recommendations include cohorting for students who engage in group activities outside of Wyandotte County. There is also guidance for non-school sports and activities, including private clubs.
UG Health Department staff members have discussed the guidelines with representatives of the local school districts, according to a spokesman. The guidelines are intended to promote COVID-19 safety during in-person learning while student athletes and other activities groups continue to compete outside of Wyandotte County, the spokesman stated.
This guidance applies to group activities in which students engage in practice, events, or competitions outside Wyandotte County (for example, – sports play or practice sanctioned by their school, private club, or other activity involving close contact that may put participants at higher risk for COVID-19), according to the Health Department officials.
The recommendations included staying together in one cohort while the student is playing school team sports. For example, during the school day a student could stay together with teammates in a classroom, with a coach as the instructor. There are other recommendations, as well.
In Wyandotte County, there have been different approaches to sports this fall. The Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools suspended all fall KSHSAA sports in order to keep students safe and reduce exposure to COVID-19. The Piper school district had scheduled away football games for the season, including a game tonight at Ottawa.
The school boards will make the decisions for each district on returning to sports.
Edwin Birch, a spokesman for the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools, said they haven’t discussed the new recommendations yet and will review them when they return from the Labor Day holiday break on Tuesday. The Kansas City, Kansas district has already decided to have virtual classes for the first nine weeks of school.
The Piper school district, according to Jenny Hurley, a spokesman, has reviewed the guidance released this afternoon.
“Our current procedures, including cohorting students and activity-based cohorts are directly in line with the recommendations issued today,” Hurley said in the statement. “We will continue to work closely with parents of those students participating in activities outside of school, such as club sports teams, if they wish to move their students from hybrid to remote learning based on the recommendation of the Wyandotte County Health Department.”
Dr. Jason Dandoy, Turner superintendent of schools, also had a statement:
“Turner USD 202 appreciates guidance from the Wyandotte County Health Department. Our current student cohorts were built based on activities and instructional content preferences of students,” Dr. Dandoy stated. “We will continue to review our student cohorts to ensure that groups have as little contact as possible. We are excited to welcome students back to a safe learning environment next week.”
More details about the new recommendations
The new recommendations for fall activities, from the Health Department:
• Maintain cohorts for the fall semester
A “cohort” is a group of students and a limited number of faculty/staff that remain together for classroom instruction and school activities, without intermingling with students, teachers, and staff from other cohorts. It is best practice for students to stay in one cohort throughout the fall semester. Doing so reduces the mixing of students, and thus, the potential spread of COVID-19 should an outbreak of the virus occur (that is, – if one cohort has a case of COVID-19, the other cohorts are at lower risk).
• Cohort activity groups together for classroom instruction (for example, – a sports team also has class together) or consider remote learning
The UGPHD strongly recommends student activity group cohorting for both sports and in-person academic programming. If this cannot be achieved, the UGPHD strongly recommends remote learning for students participating in Out-of-County activities.
• Have activity coaches act as teachers/instructors for their activity cohorts
An “activity cohort” is a group of students who practice and participate in the same sport or activity, who attend school together and are then grouped in classrooms with their teammates. These cohort classrooms should involve activity coaches as teachers/instructors. If this cannot be achieved, the UGPHD strongly recommends remote learning for students participating in out-of-county activities.
• Allow students learning remotely to return to regular school cohorts after the activity season
It is best practice for those students to remain in a remote learning environment as long as they are participating in the club, extracurricular, or non-school sponsored restricted sports activities. They should only be allowed back into regular school learning cohorts after their season has ended, and 14 days have passed since they last participated in practices or competition.
Recommendations for non-school activities, such as private clubs:
• Opt into remote learning options
Remote learning modalities are strongly encouraged for students who engage in any club, extracurricular, or non-school sponsored activities currently restricted within Wyandotte County as an alternate option to activity cohorts. For those students, the UGPHD strongly encourages remote learning programs offered by that district.
“Our top priority in Wyandotte County is to allow our children to learn safely in an in-person environment,” said Dr. Allen Greiner, chief medical officer with the Unified Government, in a news release. “But we recognize that some parents want to allow their student-athletes to continue to compete outside of Wyandotte County. Today’s recommendations are our best effort to maintain safe in-person learning for the majority of students, while also creating a pathway for student-athletes to continue with both their education and their athletic pursuits.”
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment this week reported 1,328 new COVID-19 cases between Monday and Wednesday. That brings the total number of cases in Kansas to 43,490, including 15 sports clusters responsible for causing 119 cases.
On Aug. 24, KDHE reported that statewide, there were 34 new cases reported in the 0-9 year old age group and 79 new cases statewide in the 10-17 age group. That KDHE data showed that, at that time, the 10-17 year old age group in Wyandotte County was testing positive at 18.1 percent, which was significantly higher than neighboring Johnson County, where youth 10-17 were testing positive at a rate of 6.81 percent. Several cases of COVID-19 in children have been traced to participation in youth sports.
“KDHE has tracked 10 COVID-19 clusters in Kansas that were related to youth sports this summer, including one current cluster of five people associated with a Kansas City, Kansas volleyball team,” explained Dr. Erin Corriveau, deputy medical officer with the Unified Government. “We recognize that said-athletes want to play and compete, and their parents want that for them. We feel that if this new guidance is followed by schools and student-athletes who are competing outside of Wyandotte County, we can further ensure a safe in-person learning environment for all children within Wyandotte County schools.”
According to Health Department officials, the recommendations are intended to accomplish three objectives:
• Prevent a spike in positive COVID-19 cases due to exposure through certain sports and other activities in which it is difficult to maintain social distancing and/or wear masks the whole time
• Provide consistent guidance for all non-professional sports at all levels, and
• Reduce the possibility of more restrictive future measures
Janell Friesen, a spokesman for the Health Department, said they already were encouraging cohorting by classrooms, so that students who are attending classes in person are not going from classroom to classroom. This takes it a step further, she said. Athletes who attend away games and come back to classrooms could put a large number of students at risk and possibly shut down a school, so that’s why there is a recommendation for the athletes to stay together in one classroom.
Different schools will have different set-ups for how they are handling instruction, she added. Some districts have mostly remote instruction, while others are planning in-person instruction. Some have a combination of the methods.
The community is reminded to limit social interaction wherever possible, maintain 6 feet of social distancing, and to wear a mask at all times when in public, according to Health Department officials. By working together, everyone can limit the number of new positive COVID-19 cases in Wyandotte County, according to the officials.
Testing is available for individuals who live or work in Wyandotte County if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact (within six feet for at least 10 minutes) with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Testing is available at multiple community locations, including the Public Health Department at 619 Ann Ave., and through weekly “pop-up” sites coordinated by the Wyandotte County Health Equity Task Force. To find the latest testing sites and schedules, visit wycokck.org/COVID-19.
For additional data and resources on COVID-19 in Wyandotte County, visit wycokck.org/COVID-19 or call 3-1-1.