Group of COVID cases found at NHS, ed mode to change

Chad Frey
On Wednesday, five cases of COVID-19 were announced at Newton High School, and the school was identified as a cluster by KDHE. County health officials are working with the school and KDHE to confirm that designation.

The Newton USD 373 Board of Education met Nov. 4 to decide the future of instruction in teh school district — and it was a somber discussion.

“We know our goal is to keep kids in the buildings, and that is the best for kids,” said superintendent Fred Van Rankin “We have recieved a lot of feedback from families. Whatever decision you make tonight, it will be the wrong decision.”

Part of the backdrop to the discussion and decision was Lynette Redington, the director of the Harvey County Health Department revealing Wednesday afternoon during a county commission meeting five COVID-19 cases at Newton High School.

“The high school was identified as a cluster,” Van Rankin said.

That designation came from KDHE. The five cases are being investigated to see if there is a link between them.

And on that day Santa Fe Middle School was meeting for classes in online only fashon, announced via a text to parents over the weekend, because the school did not have enough teaching staff available to meet in buildings this week.

“When you look at staffing issues, we currently have 62 staff on quarantine, up from 55 on Friday,” Van Rankin said.

There are, according to Van Rankin, also 208 students quarantined.

“The dominoes are falling,“ Van Ranking said.

The local dashboard indicator for disease spread and contract tracing is in the red. The number of cases in Harvey County has doubled in a week — 172 active cases as of Wednesday. The health department has asked KDHE for help in tracing and disease investigation.

Hospital access is also in the red — hospitals in the region are filling up.

“[Newton Medical Center] is running at capacity, that is [their] words. ... They are full but are still able to help patients,” Redington said.

Those things led to a brief discussion at the county level of returning to Phase III of the reopening plan — meaning mass gatherings of people would be limited to 45 or less. There could be a decision by the county commission next week.

All of that, however, also affects the school district as it evaluates where on its operations scale to be.

The board selected what they called a “modified orange” mode. Pre-K through fourth grade will meet in school, while grades five through eight will be hybrid — two days in school and three days online — while the high school will be online only.

The mode will begin Monday, and will be in place through Thanksgiving.