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COVID-19 cases in Lawrence Public Schools, wastewater detection added to stat dashboard

The Times has added two new charts to our COVID-19 stat dashboard for Lawrence and Douglas County: A searchable database of cases reported in Lawrence Public Schools, and the amount of COVID genetic material detected in Lawrence wastewater, which can help public health leaders anticipate when cases will be on the rise.

School started for all Lawrence students about a week ago, Thursday, Aug 19. As of Wednesday night, the school district has reported 20 cases of COVID-19, 18 of them among students. A majority, 15, have been reported at elementary schools.

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Concern especially for the district’s youngest students — those younger than 12, who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 — prompted district leaders to put in place a mask mandate for anyone ages 2 and up inside school buildings. Last Wednesday, Aug. 18, the Douglas County Commission followed with a mandate for everyone ages 2-11 to wear a mask inside any public spaces.

The school district is reporting new cases at this link, but we’ve compiled the information into a more user-friendly format. The database below can be searched or sorted by date, school, school type (elementary, middle or high school) and the infected person’s role (e.g. student, staff member).

COVID-19 genes found in Lawrence wastewater

The City of Lawrence, contracted through the University of Kansas School of Engineering, has been sampling influent wastewater at both the city’s treatment plants for a study that helps health officials make decisions on COVID safety protocols.

“Detecting the genetic material in wastewater is indicative of COVID-19 being present and may give local health officials knowledge of how widespread the virus is in their community, allowing them to take proactive measures to help mitigate its spread,” according to the city. “Recent studies have shown that COVID-19 concentrations in wastewater preceded new cases identified in health clinic by approximately one week, and the wastewater concentrations correlated with new case counts.”

Earlier this month, the amount of COVID-19 genetic material in the wastewater from both treatment plants exceeded the levels they had reached around the time of Douglas County’s peak 14-day rolling average of new cases — around 77 new cases per day in November 2020. Our chart goes back to mid-May, when case numbers were relatively low.

The study focuses on testing concentrations of aspects of COVID-19 in the wastewater, according to the city’s website. Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment are also sharing the data and collaborating on the study.

“Several recent studies have shown that both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients infected with SARS-COV-2 (COVID-19) shed the virus in stool. This provides an opportunity for wastewater-based epidemiology, by which the prevalence of the virus in a wastewater treatment plant catchment population, or sewershed, can be monitored,” according to the city’s website. “Wastewater-based epidemiology is being investigated throughout the world as an important tool to serve as an early warning of future COVID outbreaks and understand the efficacy of public health interventions, such as social distancing or shelter-in-place.”

Visit our COVID-19 dashboard by visiting this link. Get back to it anytime by visiting lawrencekstimes.com/covid.

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See the latest COVID-19 stats for Lawrence and Douglas County on The Lawrence Times’ stat dashboard at this link.

Find out where you can get the free COVID-19 vaccine at this link.

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