Newton schools testing 68 students in 'Stay to Learn' protocol

Chad Frey
The Kansan

With protestors gathered outside before the meeting began, the Newton Board of Education met with leadership of the Harvey County Health Department to discuss protocols put in place for COVID-19 mitigation for the 2021-22 school year. 

Newton created the 'Stay to Learn' protocol with the county health department. What have they found in the first week?

The night was at the request of the board, which had questions after approving a testing protocol that allows students subject to quarantine to stay in school. The protocol, created by the Harvey County Health Department, allows parents and guardians of students identified as a close contact during contact tracing to have rapid testing of COVID-19 done at school. 

If a student who has not been vaccinated or has not recovered from COVID in the previous six months agrees to testing and tests negative, they stay in school. If the student tests positive, they are sent home immediately. Those who do not opt into the testing protocol must quarantine at home, as per the health department guidelines.

"This is new. We have had this seven days," said Karen Lehman, head nurse at Newton High School. 

The numbers for the first week of testing in the schools show 68 students undergoing testing — out of 125 students identified as close contacts needing to quarantine or undergo testing to stay in school. 

According to Lynette Redington with the Harvey County Health Department, there have been 15 cases in Newton Schools. Those cases are not limited to students, but include staff as well.  She reported 11 cases have recovered from the disease. 

The school has  done 125 tests, total, as of Sept. 2. The district has performed as many as 45 in one day. Lehman reported having three students test positive — and one that is pending a followup test. 

So far the school has not found a student positive that has been considered a close contact within school. 

"They were not considered school contacts, they were household contacts," Lehman said. 

Nearly all of those who have tested positive have tested positive on their first day of the protocol.

There have been 24 contacts who are fully vaccinated, they are not required to undergo testing — they are given the choice and guidance that they can test between day three and five along between seven and 10.

 The statistics shared with the board came on a day that 21 new cases were reported to the Harvey County Health Department for the county as a whole. WIth in Harvey County there are currently 164 active COVID-19 cases. Six Harvey County residents are hospitalized with COVID-19 — NMC Health is currently treating 10 COVID-19 patients. 

Between Aug 8 to Sept. 2 there have been  63 cases reported for those age 5 to 17. 

"I did [age] 17 because we have a couple of colleges in our community, and we did not want to mix the numbers," Redington said.  

Of those, 26 cases are for those age 5 to 11. 

"Vaccines are only available to those 12 and older. We have a large population in this county that are not eligible for the vaccine," Redington said.

According to KDHE, 23 percent of Harvey County residents age 12 to 17 have been fully vaccinated — 31 percent have had one shot.