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Lawrence schools report most positive daily COVID-19 cases this fall; district gears up to help vaccinate 5- to 11-year-olds

The Lawrence school district reported 13 new COVID-19 cases among students Wednesday — the most reported cases in a single day during the first nine weeks of the 2021-2022 school year.

Over the 14 days prior to Wednesday, 29 total new cases had been reported throughout the district. In Douglas County as a whole, the 14-day moving average of new cases reported each day has dropped from about 24 to 20 during the same time frame.

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On Wednesday, the district reported the greatest number of new cases at Woodlawn Elementary, 508 Elm St., with five. The stat could land it on the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s public listing of coronavirus clusters like it did Quail Run Elementary in September, but the list isn’t due for another weekly update until Wednesday, Oct. 27. No cluster sites are currently identified in Douglas County.

The district announced on Sept. 24 that it would implement KDHE’s Test to Stay, Learn, Play and Participate testing program the following week. At that time, 140 staff members and students were reported in quarantine.

The KDHE testing program provides supplies and support for schools and essentially allows students and staff — vaccinated or not — who might have been exposed to COVID-19 through a close contact at school or a school activity to avoid quarantine as long as they continue to test negative daily for 10 consecutive days and don’t show symptoms of infection.

As of Wednesday, the number of staff and students in quarantine reported was 122, up from 94 listed the previous day. Elementary schools claim the bulk of those in quarantine — 85; high schools follow, with 21, and middle schools, 16.

Sonja Gaumer, nursing services facilitator for the school district, said in an email that the recent changes to COVID protocols coupled with the option to test out of quarantine have made a difference.

“Applying the changes in health department guidance to our contract tracing procedures, including considering low-risk versus high-risk activities, proper and consistent mask wearing, and 3 to 6 feet distancing in identifying close contacts, is preventing most elementary students from having to quarantine,” Gaumer said. “Being fully vaccinated is preventing most of our students age 12 and older from having to quarantine.”

Gaumer said the district does not track how many students and staff have avoided quarantine by participating in the testing program.

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Vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds

A separate component of the KDHE program includes funding to aid school districts with vaccination clinics and coordination.

At the Oct. 11 Lawrence school board meeting, Superintendent Anthony Lewis told the board district staff members were collaborating with Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health to coordinate vaccination logistics for children 11 and under, provided the FDA approves or extends emergency use authorization to that age group. Experts predict that could happen by early November.

Julie Boyle, spokesperson for the district, said in an email Thursday that the district was working with LDCPH on plans to host vaccination clinics in all four district middle schools, depending on vaccine availability for children ages 5 to 11.

“We are also working with LDCPH and Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence to explore hosting clinics at the elementary after-school clubs. This may be more convenient for families as they are picking up their children at the end of the day,” Boyle said. “With younger children, it is helpful to have parents and guardians present to support them.”

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced in a news release it had procured enough vaccines for the country’s 28 million children ages 5 to 11 years old. “If authorized by the FDA and recommended by the CDC, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 5- to 11- year-olds will be a dose and formula specifically for this age group.”

The news release also said the vaccine would come with all supplies providers needed to vaccinate kids, including smaller needles. Nationwide, more than 25,000 pediatric and primary care provider sites will provide vaccinations for children, in addition to tens of thousands of other provider locations including pharmacies, children’s hospitals and community health centers. As some of the most trusted medical experts for families, pediatricians are expected to play a critical role in the effort to vaccinate young children.

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More coverage: COVID-19 in K-12

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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