Worsening outbreak closes school
Marion County’s massive surge in COVID-19 cases continued to worsen Tuesday with disclosure of 16 new reported cases, after a single-day record of 31 new cases was reported Monday.
Peabody-Burns has switched high school classes to online through the end of November, and 27 Centre high school students are now online only because of an outbreak there.
Parkside Homes in Hillsboro is the third county nursing home to be hit with COVID.
The 47 new cases Monday and Tuesday were in addition to 11 new cases Nov. 4, 11 more Thursday, and 10 Friday. A whopping 79 new cases were reported since Nov. 11, well beyond the then-record of 53 new cases set last week.
The county’s total number of COVID cases stands at 309, a rate of 26 cases per 1,000 people, up 6.6 from a week ago. A jump in cases of more than 1.0 over a seven-day span means a county is federally qualified as a “red zone.” People traveling from a red zone often are required to quarantine before they visit other areas.
A record 109 county patients are being treated or are exhibiting symptoms of the virus. Five are hospitalized even as standards for hospital admission reportedly have tightened.
With numbers of quarantined students reaching as high as 30% at some county schools, Centre, Peabody-Burns, Hillsboro, and Goessel schools have switched some students to online learning.
Centre superintendent Susan Beeson learned Monday that two high school students tested positive for COVID and 25 additional high school students were quarantined because they are direct contacts.
Those students — about 30% of the high school — were switched to remote learning.
All Peabody-Burns High School activities are suspended while classes are online only through the end of the month.
Superintendent Ron Traxson said as of Tuesday, eight elementary students and 40 other students in grades 6 through 12 — 20% of the student body — were quarantined, but 10 of those would no longer be in quarantine by Thursday, Traxson said.
The district got three positive COVID diagnoses Monday.
“We do have two students that came up positive, plus one staff member,” Traxson said Monday.
Amanda Lowrence, Goessel superintendent, said 16 students, or 6% of the student body, were quarantined Tuesday.
Goessel Junior High and High School principal Scott Boden said the high school has one classroom in modified quarantine.
“Our positive numbers within the school have been very low,” Boden said. “We’ve had students come to school in modified quarantine.”
With modified quarantine, students must stay six feet apart, are screened daily for symptoms, and cannot ride a bus to school.
“If there’s any indication of illness they are sent home,” Boden said.
Goessel students are given a choice between modified quarantine and remote learning, Boden said.
Lowrence said remote students have online classes for core studies such as mathematics and science, and videos for physical education and music.
Hillsboro superintendent Max Heinrichs said 75 of the district’s 588 students — or 13% — were quarantined Tuesday. All were in remote learning.
A similar percentage of staff members were quarantined, Heinrichs said.
Heinrichs said he’s thankful the number of active cases has remained at less than 1%.
“Everybody seems to be OK, they’re just at home,” Heinrichs said.
Marion-Florence has nearly 5% of its students in quarantine. Superintendent Aaron Homburg did not say whether students are attending by modified quarantine or by remote.
Marion Elementary has 13 students in quarantine, Marion Middle School has four in quarantine and two out while waiting for test results. Marion High School has six in quarantine.
COVID-19 cases continue to hit the county’s care homes as a staff member at Parkside Homes in Hillsboro tested positive Nov. 3 during routine testing of staff. The staff member did not have symptoms of the virus.
“It was not a direct care person,” CEO Dawn Veh said. “It was someone who did not have a lot of direct patient contact.”
The staff member was sent home to isolate and the facility is doing follow-up testing of staff and residents, Veh said.
In-person visits have been discontinued.
“We are now doing window visits,” she said.
The rising number of cases in the community contributed to making window visits necessary, Veh said.
Rumors about possible outbreaks are spreading just as quickly as the virus.
Agri-Trails Co-op at Tampa was reportedly closed for two weeks because of an employee with COVID. Manager Roger Will said an employee was diagnosed last week with the virus and has been home, but the co-op is not closed.
Daily reports from the health department soon may stop, according to the health department. The state department of health and environment releases reports three times a week, and the county might change its practices to mimic KDHE.
The county’s infection rate in the last week is 51.1%, which would easily have been a record any time before Nov. 5. On Nov. 5 there was a seven-day infection rate of 61.9%, and Monday the seven-day rate was 61.3%.
All people tested Tuesday were negative for the virus, but the actual number of people tested was unknown because KDHE does not track the number of negative tests on Tuesdays.
Monday and Tuesday’s total of 47 cases was more of an increase than the county saw in any seven-day span until last week, when there were more than 50 reported cases in a seven-day span.
The county declined requests to release age and gender information of COVID-19 victims Monday or Tuesday, as it previously had done Nov. 2. Reports for Nov. 4, Thursday, and Friday listed 7 patients age 60 or older, 3 patients in their 50s, 8 in their 40s, 8 in their 30s, 3 between 18 and 29 years old, and 3 younger than 18. They include 21 females and 11 males.
The county has not disclosed how many patients were in their 70s, 80s, 90s, or older since the first nursing home outbreak at Goessel. Instead, all cases ages 60 and older are grouped together.
Teens were formerly reported separately but now victims 18 and younger are a single category since outbreaks at Centre and Peabody came to light Monday.
Beeson said she believed county residents were at “a critical state” with spread of the virus and people should take every precaution.
“It’s important for every individual to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and use good hand sanitation,” Beeson said. “Wearing a mask isn’t about you. It’s about keeping others safe. The lessons we’re learning can help us prevent continued illness and mitigate this virus as quickly as possible.”
Reporters Alexander Simone, Eric Meyer, and Mindy Kepfield contributed to this report.