Monday, September 14, 2020

Beshear administration lays out detailed guidance for schools to consider throughout the pandemic, says it's up to them to follow it

State chart available here, or click on this one for a larger version.
By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky's school officials got Monday what they'd long been asking for, a plan that helps them decide whether to open their schools, based on a dashboard of data that will be regularly updated – and maybe more importantly, assurance from Gov. Andy Beshear that he won't be offering them any more advice on how to manage their districts. 

“Let me be clear that there is not going to be an overall recommendation coming from me or my office, post-September 28th," Beshear said, referring to the date he recommended that in-person schooling resume. “What’s going to be provided is the information to make a week-by-week decision in our various school districts and counties based on prevalence and what public health and experts believe is the right course based on that prevalence.”

But Health Commissioner Steven Stack said if the rate of Kentuckians testing positive for the novel coronavirus shoots up to more than 10% and hospitals are running out of beds, "We're going to come back, and we're going to step in, and we're going to give different guidance."

Stack explained that schools will need to look at two things to determine if they should be holding in-person classes: the statewide percentage of people testing positive for the virus, which needs to be under 6%, and a color-coded map that shows the prevalence of the coronavirus in their community. 

The metric-directed guidance provides a framework for schools in each category to follow. The levels are determined by the number of cases in a county per 100,000 people. (See chart, above.)

Schools in green or yellow counties are generally instructed to follow the "Heatlhy at School" guidance, with yellow counties encouraged to take additional precautions. Orange counties will have "accelerated" spread of the virus and be encouraged to consider remote learning only. Red counties will be "critical" and should be limited to remote learning and should cancel all school-related activities until they return to yellow status. 

Beshear was asked if he would order a school in the red to move to virtual learning. "This is guidance," he replied. "But if you're in the red, it means there's widespread community spread of covid-19 and if you're in the red, it is not responsible, it is not responsible to be doing every-day, in-person learning."

Beshear also signed an emergency regulation to require parents and guardians of children who test positive for the virus to notify schools within 24 hours. He said the state already requires that for all communicable diseases, but he wanted to clarify that covid-19 was included.
New data platform: The new plan involves the creation of an up-to-date dashboard that will include self-reported data from both private and public schools, including the number of new covid-19 cases and the number of quarantined persons in their schools.

Schools will need to start submitting this data Sept. 28, but Stack said schools already doing in-person learning can go ahead and start submitting it.

Stack said his state Department for Public Health will maintain its K-12 school report, but the data will always lag behind the new dashboard and the numbers will not match up. Beshear said the dashboard is meant to provide quick information in the short term, while the public-health report will be used for long-term analysis because everything on it will have been verified. 

Beshear said he was confident that schools would report accurate data because the public-health report would eventually reveal any discrepancies. 

Stack said each individual college and university will be keeping its own up-to-date dashboard, along with the state's public health records. 

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who also serves as secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, said she will be working with the health department and the Department of Education to hold town halls with superintendents, teachers and other stakeholders about the changes: "Our goals are to be transparent and communicative, to ensure accountability and inclusion and to allow every voice to be heard.”

Dr. Houston Barber, superintendent of the Frankfort Independent Schools and a student of analytics in the Harvard University Business Analytics Program, praised the new program. 

“As a father of four . . . I empathize with all Kentuckians about what school looks like today and how you’re navigating that course,” Barber said. “This tool that has been developed for K-12 is incredible. It allows for districts all across the state of Kentucky to work together with their local health officials, to work with their local board teams and come up with a strategy that makes sense for their students, for their families and for their communities.”

Sam Griffin, 6, created this sign for the Lexington protest.
(Photo by Arden Barnes, Lexington Herald-Leader)
In Lexington, which has seen a surge of cases partly driven by students at the University of Kentucky, Fayette County school officials said they wouldn't resume in-person classes "until at least after the fall break on Oct. 1 and 2 . . . as a group of parents rallied outside Central Office for an immediate return," Valarie Honeycutt Spears reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

UK's efforts to thwart the virus got an on-site endorsement Monday from Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force. She said UK has an “incredibly sophisticated” plan to test, detect and quarantine or isolate students, Alex Acquisto reports for the Herald-Leader: "She said as long as it continues to function in the way it has, and as long as students continue to wear masks, the university shouldn’t need to close before holiday break" on Nov. 25.

Daily numbers: Beshear announced 342 new cases of the virus Monday, 53 of them in Kentuckians 18 and younger 

The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days was 4.17%. It has remained under 5% for about three weeks. 

Beshear reported five new deaths from covid-19 Monday, raising the state's death toll to 1,065. 

They were a 71-year-old woman from Christian County; two men, ages 77 and 80, from Fayette County; an 82-year-old woman from Pulaski County; and a 49-year-old man from Shelby County, which he pointed out to show the disease doesn't kill only old people.

“If you’re a person – whether you’re in the state legislature over there or you're at home on your keyboard – that is saying, ‘Oh, but these people are older,’ unh-unh, shame on you. These are children of God, just like everyone else, who deserved more time on this planet,” Beshear said. “Their life is just as important as everybody else’s. The moment that we desensitize ourselves to the fact that even a 90-something-year-old has more time with his or her family, grandkids, maybe great-grandkids, and covid takes it from them – it’s not acceptable."

Rebecca Shadowen, M.D. 
The governor honored the lost life of a doctor who was at the forefront of fighting covid-19 in one of the state's hotspots. Dr. Rebecca Shadowen, an infectious-disease specialist and epidemiologist at Med Center Health in Bowling Green, died Friday after battling the disease for four months. Beshear showed part of an interview in which Shadowen encouraged Kentuckians to wear a mask. 

“I’m praying for her family, her friends and her colleagues,” Beshear said. “I’m praying that people will listen to her, listen to the gift and the wisdom that she left for us. And recognize that this was somebody who was out there fighting for the lives of those suffering from covid, who gave her own to help us out. You want to know why you should wear a mask? For her.”

In other covid-19 news Monday:
  • In long-term care facilities, the daily report showed 12 new residents and 11 new staff tested positive for the virus and 517 residents and 361 staff had active cases of it. The report shows 598 residents and five staff have died from covid-19. 
  • The K-12 school report shows 10 more students and two more employees have tested positive for the virus and 321 students and 157 employees with active cases. 
  • The college and university report shows 119 more students have tested positive, and no more employees. The report shows 1,155 students and 49 employees have active cases. 
  • Counties with 10 or more cases on the state's daily report were Jefferson, 86; Fayette, 40; Hardin, 12; Madison, 11; and Bullitt, 10.
  • The report shows 504 people are hospitalized in Kentucky with covid-19 and 119 of them are in intensive care.
  • Beshear announced that over 1 million coronavirus tests have been done in the state. 
  • The state advisory against travel to states with positive-test rates of 15%, and for self-quarantine if they do, only applies now to only three states: South Dakota, Alabama and Idaho.
  • Pfizer Inc. announced that it will likely know by Oct. 31 whether its coronavirus vaccine is effective, and if it is, the company plans to begin distribution by the end of the year but does not believe the vaccine will be widely available to the general public until 2021.
  • The top spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services "accused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of harboring a 'resistance unit' determined to undermine President Trump," reports Sharon LaFraniere of The New York Times. She writes that Michael Caputo, who has tried to "warp CDC weekly bulletins to fit Mr. Trump’s pandemic narrative," also "said left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election," and "suggested that he personally could be in danger." She quotes remarks from a video on his Facebook page: “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.”
  • Beshear announced that with the addition of a donation of 2 million masks from Ford Motor Co., the largest gift yet, the state has almost reached its goal of having enough personal protective equipment to last 120 days in the event of a surge of cases. Health-care providers are required to have 14 days' supply on hand. 
Gov. Andy Beshear said the state PPE warehouse would be full by Sept. 30. (Facebook) 

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