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Thanksgiving looms as Halloween surge wanes

Staff writers

Even as the number of new cases slowed this week, worried eyes turned to the next super-spreader event on the horizon — Thanksgiving.

County health nurse Diedre Serene expects many people to travel outside their communities to see family.

“A lot of it is that families will come together who are non-households, and they come from all over,” she said Tuesday. “There are a lot of people who don’t know they’re infected or think it’s just allergies.”

Monday’s disclosure of 10 new cases brings to 420 the total number of COVD-19 cases in the county, an increase of 47 in the past seven days.

Until a month ago, the maximum number of new cases reported in any seven-day period had been just 21. The seven-day total reached 31 on Halloween and had been above 80 for more than a week until Friday’s figures lowered it to 70 and Monday’s lowered it to 47.

Data released Monday by the county health department indicate that the county’s infection rate stands at 35.3 per 1,000 residents, up 4.0 from where it was a week ago. An increase of just 1.0 in any seven-day period puts a county on a federal list of “red zones.” In many areas, visitors to “red zone” counties are required to quarantine after they return home.

Among county residents tested for COVID-19 by any means in the past 14 days, 39.8% have tested positive. To prevent spread of the disease from the overall community into public schools, the Kansas Department of Education recommends that all in-person classes be canceled when the 14-day positivity rate for a community is above just 10%, nearly one-fourth the positivity rate Marion County is experiencing.

The county never has released information about where local victims live. It now has ceased to provide information about their age and gender and limits all reporting to totals delivered every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening. Totals reported by the county typically are two days ahead of those on state websites.

The county sends all non-household contacts to KDHE for contact tracing and monitoring, but some counties are having people who test positive inform contacts themselves, Serene said.

“Isn’t this whole thing about trust?” Serene said. “This whole thing is about common sense, every time we go outside, we trust individuals will be responsible and do the right thing.”

Between 75% and 80% of customers were wearing masks midday Saturday at Dollar General in Marion, a significant increase from how many had donned masks in recent months.

Despite seeing more customers with masks, at least one Dollar General employee echoed Serene’s concern that the situation could worsen next week.

“I hope we get to come back after Thanksgiving,” the employee said.

People who test positive for the virus are directed by the county health department to isolate for 10 days from the onset of symptoms, or from their test date if there are no symptoms.

Household members are directed to quarantine for 14 days after the COVID victim is released, and close contacts are told to quarantine for 14 days from after exposure to a victim.

A close contact:

  • Lives with the infected person or stayed overnight in the same house.
  • Had direct contact with secretions, such as being coughed or sneezed on, kissed, had contact with dirty tissue, or shared personal items such as a drinking glass, food, or towels.
  • Played contact sports with the person with COVID.
  • Sat within two seats on an aircraft from anyone with COVID, their travel companion or caretaker.

Longtime Tampa resident Dee Duggan, who died Monday night, was confirmed to have died of pneumonia, though she had been a COVID-19 victim.

Duggan tested negative for the virus multiple times in the last two weeks, according to Yazel-Megli Funeral Home co-owner Brad Yazel, who is handling her services.

“They do have to tell us if someone has an active case,” he said. “She clearly was marked as non-COVID.”

Hillsboro’s school board decided Monday to extend hybrid learning for high school students through December, and Thanksgiving break will be extended until Dec. 2.

“If you have a kid right now, it’s a whole different look from if you don’t,” superintendent Max Heinrichs said.

Marion also decided to extend its Thanksgiving break, with school starting again Dec. 3.

Centre has middle and high school students learning remotely, which Peabody-Burns has done with its high school students. Goessel, on the other hand, is using a hybrid model for some classes. None of those districts have extended Thanksgiving break.

A decision Tuesday by Kansas High School Athletics Association will allow for sports competitions in December through Dec. 22, which may resume Jan. 8. January practices may start Jan. 3.

The new schedule will allow basketball and wrestling teams to have the same number of games as was originally planned.

Marion, Peabody-Burns, and Centre are scheduled to start practices after coming back from Thanksgiving break. Goessel started practices last week, and Hillsboro started Monday.

Reporters Eric Meyer and Phyllis Zorn contributed to this story.

Last modified Nov. 26, 2020

 

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