Kansas sees nine new school COVID clusters, bringing the total to 31 active outbreaks. Here's what to know.

Jason Tidd
Topeka Capital-Journal
Teachers at Holton Elementary School make sure students use hand sanitizer and wash their hands plenty of times a day to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Kansas public health officials continue to identify K-12 schools with COVID-19 outbreaks as many districts face mask policy debates.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Wednesday reported nine new coronavirus clusters at schools. There are now 31 active school outbreaks, but only eight were publicly identified.

Those schools are as follows:

  • Circle Oil Hill Elementary in El Dorado with nine cases.
  • Hesston Middle School with 13 cases.
  • Lincoln Elementary School in McPherson with six cases.
  • Quail Run Elementary in Lawrence with five cases.
  • Roosevelt Elementary in Hoisington with five cases.
  • Trinity Academy in Wichita with five cases.
  • St. George Elementary in the Rock Creek district with 22 cases.
  • Macksville Junior/Senior High with five cases.

More:'Do not send your child to camp with sickness': Summer camp COVID-19 clusters in Kansas infect youths and staff

Two of four active outbreaks in sports were identified: the Chaparral football team in Anthony and the McPherson College women's soccer team. Both clusters have six cases.

In addition, there are two active outbreaks at colleges or universities and 22 active outbreaks at daycares that were not identified.

School officials at St. George Elementary, which has the largest publicly identified cluster, announced the outbreak in an Aug. 30 Facebook post.

Superintendent Kevin Logan said that most of the cases at that point were within a single classroom, which had 21 people.

One student tested positive for COVID-19 two days before the Facebook post, which was made after five additional children showed up at school while symptomatic and then tested positive at school. Two more children tested positive the same day at their doctor's office.

"Please monitor your child(ren) for symptoms, and if there is question as the cause of the symptoms, please have them tested to rule out COVID-19," Logan said.

Delta variant is fueling the COVID surge in Kansas

KDHE policy calls for publishing the names of locations that have five or more COVID-19 cases within the last two weeks, though some locations are excluded due to privacy concerns. The policy is the same as was used during last school year.

Last week, Gov. Laura Kelly announced the formation of the Safer Classrooms Workgroup. The workgroups is tasked with releasing a weekly report on COVID-19 information, including schools with active outbreaks.

"We got our kids back in school by listening to health professionals, wearing masks, implementing stringent public health protocol, and getting vaccinated," Kelly said in a statement ."We’ll keep them there by continuing to follow the best health practices. I encourage all Kansans to get vaccinated as soon as possible."

More:'Children are catching the virus … and dying': Some Kansas schools mandating masks amid 21 COVID outbreaks

The highly contagious delta variant has fueled the recent surge. Of the specimens collected last week in Kansas, about 88% were the delta strain.

Case rates among Kansas children are worse now than when schools reopened last fall. There were 9,402 new cases among children in August 2021, compared to 1,282 new cases among children in August 2020, according to state data.

About one-third of all new cases since the start of September have been youths, data show. The KDHE reported 9,679 new cases among all ages since Sept. 1, and 3,211 of the cases were children.

KDHE data for last week show the 14-17 age group has the highest case rate in the state, followed by the 11-13 age group at second-highest and 5-10 at third-highest.

The state also reported 253 new hospitalizations, including five children, and 112 new deaths, all of which were adults.

Doctors discuss masks and COVID vaccines

Adults are eligible for the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccines. Children aged 12 and older are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.

Younger children will likely be eligible under emergency use authorization by the end of the month, said Gregory Poland, director of Mayo Clinic’s vaccine research group, during a Wednesday media briefing hosted by The University of Kansas Health System. He said vaccinations for younger children will be beneficial for schools.

"Absent masking and vaccination, I think it is inevitable," Poland said of the potential for a bigger surge later this fall and winter. “We seem, as a nation, to have lost our capacity for critical reasoning and thinking. This has been an amazing, and I think wrongheaded experiment.

"In the midst of the worst pandemic that any of us have seen in our lifetimes, in the face of the most contagious variant we’ve ever seen, let’s ban masks and bring children together and crowd them into schools and see what happens."

Poland said he believes it may take as much as 90% of the U.S. being vaccinated to reach herd immunity. 

Federal data released Wednesday show 62.5% of the national population has gotten at least one dose and 53.2% is fully vaccinated. Kansas has lower vaccination rates, at 58% with at least one dose and 48.9% fully vaccinated.

Vaccination rates among Kansas youths are even lower, at 46.7% with at least one dose and 35.2% fully vaccinated.

More:How many kids are vaccinated in Kansas? Here's a county COVID-19 breakdown for eligible children.

Steve Stites, the chief medical officer at the KU hospital, said masking and vaccination can help avert a crisis.

"School is back in session — if kids aren't wearing masks, I just think this fall we could be back in trouble again, and with the health care system already overburdened," he said.

"It just confounds me when people say masks don't work," Stites said, pointing to a lack of disease spread among hospital staff who work with COVID-19 patients.

Poland said that a "conflation of politics, economics and distorted religion" has led people to regard masks not as a medical tool, but as "some sort of marker of authoritarianism or of political freedom or of economic bondage."

"We act as if there is no pandemic," he said. "And that is just absurd by any lens you want to look through."

More COVID clusters reported at nursing homes, private businesses 

State health officials report 177 active outbreaks, with a combined 1,403 cases, 54 hospitalizations and 33 deaths.

The 62 outbreaks at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities account for 28 of the deaths. Clusters at private businesses, group homes and a health care facility account for the remaining deaths.

The KDHE identified additional outbreaks at correctional facilities, a government office, a group living facility, long-term care facilities, a private business and a religious gathering. Those locations are below, with case counts from the past 14 days.

  • Barton County Detention Center in Great Bend with six cases.
  • Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex in Topeka with 17 cases.
  • Sedgwick County jail in Wichita with 10 cases.
  • Shawnee County jail in Topeka with 14 cases.
  • Wilson County Sheriff's Department of Corrections in Fredonia with seven cases.
  • Kansas Neurological Institute in Topeka with six cases.
  • Brookdale Rosehill in Shawnee with five cases.
  • Dominican Sisters of Peace in Great Bend with six cases.
  • Good Samaritan Society Valley Vista in Wamego with five cases.
  • Meridian Health and Rehab in Wichita with five cases.
  • Sterling Village in Sterling with five cases.
  • Sonic Drive-In in Colby with six cases.
  • Goodland Church of Christ in Goodland with eight cases.

More:KDHE issues Kansas county COVID-19 rankings to aid local leaders. How does your county compare?

Kansas county COVID-19 Rankings

Kansas officials are ranking counties based on COVID-19 rates for vaccinations, new cases and new tests administered.

Below are the 105 Kansas counties in alphabetical order, with the current overall ranking listed first and the Sept. 1 overall ranking in parenthesis. The lowest-risk county is ranked No. 1 and the highest-risk county is ranked No. 105.

  • Allen: 87, (45).
  • Anderson: 94, (90).
  • Atchison: 66, (78).
  • Barber: 28, (50).
  • Barton: 77, (87).
  • Bourbon: 104, (104).
  • Brown: 7, (17).
  • Butler: 62, (63).
  • Chase: 73, (60).
  • Chautauqua: 105, (102).
  • Cherokee: 83, (89).
  • Cheyenne: 63, (73).
  • Clark: 38, (49).
  • Clay: 40, (56).
  • Cloud: 68, (71).
  • Coffey: 52, (64).
  • Comanche: 55, (63).
  • Cowley: 52, (39).
  • Crawford: 79, (81).
  • Decatur: 91, (97).
  • Dickinson: 44, (44).
  • Doniphan: 49, (35).
  • Douglas: 1, (1).
  • Edwards: 71, (69).
  • Elk: 98, (105).
  • Ellis: 22, (37).
  • Ellsworth: 6, (5).
  • Finney: 90, (86).
  • Ford: 85, (76).
  • Franklin: 26, (20).
  • Geary: 30, (23).
  • Gove: 26, (26).
  • Graham: 11, (9).
  • Grant: 34, (42).
  • Gray: 68, (63).
  • Greeley: 5, (15).
  • Greenwood: 84, (41).
  • Hamilton: 65, (78).
  • Harper: 46, (75).
  • Harvey: 42, (53).
  • Haskell: 92, (93).
  • Hodgeman: 13, (4).
  • Jackson: 22, (19).
  • Jefferson: 15, (17).
  • Jewell: 80, (54).
  • Johnson: 2, (2).
  • Kearny: 37, (25).
  • Kingman: 53, (53).
  • Kiowa: 18, (38).
  • Labette: 41, (37).
  • Lane: 73, (67).
  • Leavenworth: 3, (6).
  • Lincoln: 59, (57).
  • Linn: 98, (98).
  • Logan: 57, (51).
  • Lyon: 18, (11).
  • Marion: 78, (75).
  • Marshall: 32, (34).
  • McPherson: 19, (14).
  • Meade: 86, (94).
  • Miami: 49, (25).
  • Mitchell: 35, (4).
  • Montgomery: 81, (72).
  • Morris: 12, (12).
  • Morton: 103, (99).
  • Nemaha: 4, (7).
  • Neosho: 95, (91).
  • Ness: 8, (8).
  • Norton: 10, (10).
  • Osage: 36, (43).
  • Osborne: 101, (95).
  • Ottawa: 49, (41).
  • Pawnee: 20, (19).
  • Phillips: 56, (60).
  • Pottawatomie: 90, (80).
  • Pratt: 39, (60).
  • Rawlins: 76, (82).
  • Reno: 30, (29).
  • Republic: 65, (85).
  • Rice: 62, (55).
  • Riley: 50, (65).
  • Rooks: 75, (67).
  • Rush: 16, (28).
  • Russell: 75, (80).
  • Saline: 24, (21).
  • Scott: 62, (47).
  • Sedgwick: 27, (27).
  • Seward: 46, (49).
  • Shawnee: 14, (13).
  • Sheridan: 88, (84).
  • Sherman: 100, (97).
  • Smith: 58, (70).
  • Stafford: 44, (47).
  • Stanton: 55, (33).
  • Stevens: 96, (103).
  • Sumner: 93, (92).
  • Thomas: 82, (88).
  • Trego: 99, (100).
  • Wabaunsee: 32, (31).
  • Wallace: 71, (83).
  • Washington: 23, (33).
  • Wichita: 33, (30).
  • Wilson: 71, (69).
  • Woodson: 102, (101).
  • Wyandotte: 9, (22).