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COVID times are changing, and so are Lawrence data sources; here’s what to expect from updates

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As the pandemic has dragged on for more than two years, so have the numbers — all representing lives touched by COVID-19. 

Rolling averages. New cases. Hospitalizations. And, tragically, deaths of our fellow community members. 

The two-year anniversary of the first known case in Douglas County has come and gone. And Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health is beginning to change how frequently it reports out some new data.

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“As Kansas has entered an endemic phase, we are interested in trying to take steps in that direction too, moving from response to recovery,” Daniel Smith, a spokesperson for the health department, said Tuesday.

“Our informatics department has spent the past two years operating in crisis mode, and while COVID isn’t going away, they simply can’t continue working in those conditions forever. We are trying to move away from simply putting out tons of data wholesale, in favor of giving people the specific information they utilize to inform their decisions around COVID safety.”

Tuesday’s update from the health department showed that the rolling 14-day average number of new cases per day in Douglas County is up to 37.2, and there are 591 known active cases. That means the county’s “community transmission indicator” is yellow — the phase in which health officials recommend masks indoors for anyone ages 2 and up. 

“Numbers have been climbing a bit recently but nothing like the earlier spike we saw with Omicron, and while reporting has decreased significantly, the inpatients at LMH are still relatively low,” Smith said. 

Plus, the community has gained a lot of tools to deal with COVID, including vaccinations, boosters, masking and social distancing — and we know a lot more now than we did two years ago, Smith said. 

We at the Times have tracked data from numerous sources in our COVID-19 dashboard — and we will continue to do so, as long as that data is available. That includes a table of new cases reported in Lawrence schools, wastewater COVID detection and more. 

Here are the changes to which updates our data sources are providing, how frequently they’ll be provided and more. 

Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health

The majority of COVID-19 data on our stat dashboard comes from the health department. That includes the rolling 14-day average number of new cases, test positivity rates, new and active cases recorded in the county, and vaccination rates. 

Starting this week, has LDCPH moved to twice-weekly updates to most of those data points. Updates will now come on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“We’ve always known that we couldn’t maintain the previous level of COVID data indefinitely and that waiting for the disease to go away was not a feasible option,” Smith said. “With other organizations decreasing their updates, and numbers at a moderate level, we decided that now was a good time to make the switch. In the future we can increase communications surrounding COVID-19 if necessary.”

Click here to see the latest COVID-19 stats for Lawrence, the Lawrence school district, and Douglas County on the Times’ dashboard.

Vaccination numbers continue to grow “a steady but predictable pace,” Smith said. Those numbers will be updated monthly going forward. 

The last update, from April 7, showed that almost 75% of Douglas County residents ages 5 and up have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine (74.4%, to be exact). 65.8% of those ages 5 and up have received the full vaccine series, and 37.5% of those ages 12 and up have received a booster dose. 

A second booster has been approved for those ages 50 and older, and “things on the horizon like the much-anticipated booster shots for children 5-11 and vaccinations for those 0-4, all of which give us hope that we will see an even higher level of protection for those in our community,” Smith said.

Lawrence Public Schools

The Lawrence school district is still reporting new cases that are reported in students and staff on the district’s website, and we add them to the searchable table on our dashboard. 

However, the district stopped updating its quarantine data and removed that data table last week. District spokesperson Julie Boyle said that is because the Kansas Department of Health and Environment discontinued contact tracing in February. LDCPH also stopped contact tracing and issuing quarantine orders through the schools, she said. 

People who believe they have been exposed to someone with COVID are expected to self-quarantine, Boyle said. 

We have retired the quarantine data table on our dashboard.

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City of Lawrence influent wastewater

The City of Lawrence, contracted through the University of Kansas School of Engineering, has been sampling influent wastewater at 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.”

Trevor Flynn, assistant director of Municipal Services and Operations for the City of Lawrence, said the city continues monitoring the Kansas River Wastewater Treatment Plant, but it has discontinued sampling the Wakarusa plant “as the city is no longer funding this project.” 

KU is the project lead performing the laboratory and analysis work through a contract with KDHE, Flynn said. The project is funded through the end of June, which is the end of the state fiscal year. 

We will keep updating our wastewater chart until new information is no longer available. 

KDHE: COVID-19 variants

Since April 1, KDHE has begun updating its data dashboard only on Fridays of each week. 

In addition, the format of its reporting on COVID-19 variants has changed and to only show omicron variants; therefore, we’ve retired our variant chart. (It is still accessible at the bottom of our dashboard.)

As of Tuesday, the updated variant dashboard showed that KDHE had sequenced 95 omicron specimens in Douglas County, plus 4 omicron BA.2 specimens. 

BA.2 accounts for more than 90% of new COVID-19 cases in the northeastern United States right now, and health systems there are seeing an uptick in hospitalizations, according to LMH Health’s community update from Thursday. 

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-422-6363. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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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