Weekly COVID-19 Update: JoCo health dept. recommends schools cancel indoor winter sports

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment has recommended schools cancel all indoor sports and activities for the winter season as COVID-19 cases continue to climb. This recommendation does not have regulatory authority and individual schools can decide whether or not to follow the guidance.

While many students around Johnson County have returned to in-person learning, it remains to be seen whether winter sports, which are typically gearing up for pre-season practice this time of year, will be able to play.

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment this week recommended canceling all indoor sports and activities for the coming winter sport season, where COVID-19 mitigation efforts are not possible, including close-contact sports like wrestling and basketball.

In a letter to the superintendents of Johnson County’s six public school districts, county health director Sanmi Areola said the risk of COVID-19 transmission during indoor sports and activities is “significantly higher” than with outdoor activities, like golf and soccer, that have been played this fall.

“We will need to do more to prevent infections as we enter the cooler temperatures of fall and outdoor activities become less of an option,” Areola said.

He added that the chances of widespread transmission in schools is higher if indoor activities take place, especially if spectators are allowed.

“Athletics and extracurricular activities increase the risk even more when there is excessive exhalation, close physical contact, and a lack of masks,” he said.

While JCDHE suggested canceling these activities, it will be up to the individual districts to decide whether, or to what extent, they implement the recommendation.

Key COVID trends continue upward trend

The percent of Johnson County residents testing positive for COVID-19 continued to climb this week, jumping to 8.4% today, compared to 6.8% on Oct. 21. Two weeks ago the county was at 5.9%.

Hospitalizations and cases per 100,000 residents were also up.

But new cases for the week of Oct. 18 through Oct. 25 were down 4% with 714 new cases, compared to the 746 new cases for the week ending Oct. 17.

The county’s percent positive rate continued its upward trend this week and is at 8.4%. There was also 16 new COVID-19 related deaths since last week. All data is from the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment’s COVID-19 dashboard. We included data that was available as of October 28.

Schools remain in ‘orange’ zone

Screenshot via JCDHE COVID-19 dashboard.

Johnson County’s gating criteria for reopening schools remains in the “orange zone,” according to JCDHE’s recommendation.  In the “orange zone,” it is suggested schools can conduct in-person learning for elementary students, while keeping middle and high school students in remote or hybrid learning.

After Shawnee Mission Schools began hybrid learning for secondary students on Monday, all public school districts in Johnson County now have students at all grade levels in in-person learning at least two days each week.

While the incidence rate, which looks at new cases per 100,000 residents, is in the “red zone” at 273, the percent positivity rate is in the yellow zone. JCDHE said it looks at several factors when considering what zone to recommend for schools, including incidence rate, positivity rate trends, what mitigation factors schools are using (like masking and social distancing), public health capacity across Johnson County, along with the ability of school districts to perform contact tracing.

“We do not recommend changing learning modes with every change in incidence rate or other metrics. Our staff monitors these metrics daily and will make additional recommendations to the districts when/if the ability to implement mitigation measures become challenged,” JCDHE said in an Oct. 27 Facebook post.