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Some Olathe high schools to resume wearing masks until break

The most recent data reported on the district’s COVID dashboard showed the highest rate of COVID-19 transmission for the school year.

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OlatheWestFile

Olathe Northwest and Olathe West high schools will start wearing masks universally during school hours on Monday. The shift back to mandatory face-coverings will last at least until the beginning of winter break, which starts at the end of this week. 

“Masks will remain optional outside of the academic day as students, fans, visitors and parents are in the building voluntarily for events, practices and games etc.,” West’s principal Jay Novacek said in an email to families. “Optional masking at our high school during the school day may resume after winter break.” 

SCHOOL COVID MITIGATION POLICIES 

After Thanksgiving Break, the USD 233 dropped its mask requirement for high school buildings. However, if community spread starts to increase, mitigation becomes more strict on a building-by-building basis at the high school level. If the number of isolations and quarantines surpass 4%, a building returns to universal masking until the rate falls below 4% for two weeks. That same protocol is activated if 7% of a building’s population is absent. In Olathe West’s case, the building reached an absentee rate of 7% or higher, Novacek said. 

Under the Johnson County K-6 mask mandate in effect through the end of the school year, middle and elementary school buildings in the Olathe school district must still enforce their mask requirements. Also, any older student or district staff member will be required to mask in settings that they interact with children still subject to the mask order. 

The most recent data reported on the Olathe school district’s COVID-19 dashboard showed the highest rate of COVID-19 transmission among students and staff for the current school year. That data covered the first week back from Thanksgiving break, Nov. 29 to Dec. 2. 

COMMUNITY OUTLOOK 

The flu is also in play, with local health systems reporting higher rates of infection than this time last year. Last week, chief medical officers across the metro area warned of both rising COVID-19 and flu cases during a Facebook Live morning medical briefing from the University of Kansas Health systems. 

According to recent data reported by the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the community remains high. That’s because the incidence rate, which measures the rate of cases per 100,000 residents, and the rate of positive test metrics are both inching further into the Center for Disease Control and Preventions’ red zone. 

The county’s COVID dashboard, last updated on Friday, shows an incidence rate of almost 350, an increase of 100 from this time last week. The rate of positivity has also surpassed 11%, a near doubling from this time last month. 

This increase in local spread comes as concerns mount about a new, possibly more transmissible variant. The new omicron variant, first documented in South Africa, hasn’t been documented in Kansas yet, but has been recorded in Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado, according to the CDC. 

During last Tuesday’s COVID Update, KU’s chief medical officer Dr. Steve Stites advised individuals to “trust the science” and practice close adherence to public health principles that have proven effective at slowing transmission of the novel coronavirus over the last 22 months. 

“So if you're sick, stay home,” he said. “Keep your masks on, people, whether there's a mask mandate or not. I know it's an unpopular choice, and you feel like ‘I'm gonna look weird when I go out.’ No, actually, you look like you're trying to show the ultimate holiday gift — you're taking care of everybody.” 

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