Health care advocates tie decrease in school COVID-19 clusters to increase in masking

by Noah Taborda, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — With flu season fast approaching, a panel of education and health care advocates are touting the effect school masking policies have had on an apparent decrease in outbreaks in the classroom.

Despite adding 10 new school clusters, the number of active outbreaks has dropped from 68 last week to 56 this week. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is reporting 546 cases connected to these ongoing clusters.

Circle Towanda Intermediate School in Butler County currently has the most COVID-19 cases within the last 14 days, with 20. Hillsboro Elementary School in Marion County and Yates Center Middle School in Woodson County both reported 12 cases in the past two weeks.

Marci Nielsen, chief adviser to the governor for COVID-19 coordination, pointed to an increase in the number of school districts implementing masking policies.

“It is important for us to understand whether masks, at the end of the day, prevent outbreaks in schools,” Nielsen said. “These trends continue to show that in Kansas, when we require masks, we see fewer outbreaks impacting fewer students.”

Nielsen shared Wednesday with the governor’s Safer Classroom Workgroup that of those districts with an active outbreak, 37% had a mask requirement. Those with no mandate or unknown policies had triple the number of cases per capita.

Nielsen reported Kansas has made many strides in the last month, as case numbers across the state tail off. Since Monday, KDHE has recorded 2,121 new cases, nine new deaths and 91 hospitalizations.

Pediatric numbers appear to be improving but school-aged children remain at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19, Nielsen said.

As the weather gets colder, panel members such as state education commissioner Randy Watson are on guard for another surge this fall or winter. Watson praised KDHE’s testing protocol, which continues to attract participating districts.

However, 22% of public and private schools have expressed no interest. Watson said improving this number could prove pivotal to keeping children in school during the winter.

“Last winter was a brutal winter, and we’re hoping that that doesn’t occur again,” he said. “We have less resistance to voluntary testing because people want to be in school and they want to participate in those activities.”

Kimber Kasitz, the head nurse for Wichita Public Schools, said being back in schools is improving not only academic success but students’ social-emotional well-being. During the pandemic, she saw an increase in the number of students coping with mental health issues — from depression to anxiety to suicidal thoughts.

Returning to in-person learning has alleviated some of these concerns, Kasitz said, while endorsing school participation in the state-funded testing strategies. Any mitigation effort that reduces the amount of time students must spend isolated from one another goes a long way, she said.

“It’s been huge to see the numbers of kids that are able to be back at in-school learning but also being able to get those peer relationships back that they missed out on over the last couple of years,” Kasitz said.

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FDA panel recommends booster shot of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine

by Laura Olson, Kansas Reflector

Washington — Millions of Americans who received Moderna’s two-shot COVID-19 vaccine are expected to be eligible soon for booster shots, after a federal advisory panel on Thursday recommended a third dose for older and higher-risk adults as well as certain workers.

The unanimous recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration vaccine panel came a few weeks after federal health officials authorized a booster dose of Pfizer’s vaccine, to be given at least six months after an individual gets a second shot.

Unlike the Pfizer booster, the additional Moderna shots will be half doses, 50 micrograms compared to the 100 micrograms in the first and second Moderna shots that are given four weeks apart. The smaller dose resulted in fewer side effects while still boosting immune-system antibodies, according to company officials.

The FDA panel’s Moderna recommendation is for people who are 65 and older, as well as those between 18 and 64 who are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 or who live or work in situations that increase their risk. The same population groups are eligible for the Pfizer booster.

As with Pfizer, the Moderna boosters are intended to be given six months after the second shot.

That matching eligibility was by design. Peter Marks, director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting that he hoped the panel would seek to “harmonize” who is getting boosters across the different vaccines in order to reduce confusion.

The next step for the Moderna booster shot is the granting of emergency authorization by the FDA, and then action by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on who should receive the boosters. A CDC panel will meet next week to debate those specifics.

The same FDA panel that made Thursday’s recommendation will meet Friday to consider an additional dose of the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

The vaccine panel also will be reviewing data on the potential to mix and match different brands of COVID-19 vaccines. That would give more flexibility to state and local officials overseeing vaccination campaigns and to providers administering shots.

Some who received the J and J shot also have sought approval to receive a follow-up dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which studies have shown to have higher efficacy against infection.

The approval of booster shots was initially bumpy, with some federal vaccine officials frustrated by the Biden administration’s aggressive timeline for approving additional shots. Several longtime FDA officials announced their departure from the agency.

The FDA remains led by an acting commissioner, though that may soon change: The Washington Post and Politico reported Thursday that former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Robert Califf, currently a professor of cardiology at Duke University School of Medicine in North Carolina, is expected to be tapped to head the agency.

The advisory panels weighing the Pfizer shot also expressed unease about the broad categories proposed for boosters, questioning whether health care workers, teachers and others really needed another dose due to potential exposure to the virus at their workplace. The eligibility categories were pared back after a contentious committee hearing, and later expanded in the CDC’s recommendation.

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UG Health Department loosens COVID-19 gathering guidance; more than 50 percent of residents vaccinated

Previous gathering guidance for Kansas City, Kansas, is being loosened because of improved COVID-19 numbers and increased vaccination rates.

However, the mask mandate remains in place for indoor public spaces in Kansas City, Kansas, through Nov. 18.

The Unified Government Health Department announced Thursday that more than 50 percent of people living in Wyandotte County have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The data was from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Other COVID-19 numbers have improved after a surge in COVID-19 cases this summer and early fall:

• 29 new COVID-19 cases per day (7-day rolling average, down from more than 100 cases per day in August).
• 18% positivity of COVID-19 tests (7-day rolling average, down from nearly 40% in August).

“Reaching 50% of people vaccinated in Wyandotte County is an important milestone for our community,” said Juliann Van Liew, director of the UG Health Department, in a news release. “Early in the pandemic, our vaccination numbers lagged sorely behind other parts of the state and the metro. But I’m happy to say we’ve made immense progress this year in bringing those numbers up. We still have work to do to get closer to herd immunity, but with the ongoing dedication of our amazing health department team, partner agencies, and community members, we hope to see COVID risk continue to go down in our county.”

Guidance on gatherings loosened

The UG Health Department also announced today that it has loosened its guidance on social gatherings. The Health Department continues to encourage caution when gathering with people outside of one’s household.

“The COVID situation in Wyandotte County has improved significantly in the past couple of months, with a combination of masking, vaccination, and people taking other COVID precautions,” said Dr. Allen Greiner, chief health officer with the UG Health Department. “Cases are down, and we are starting to see hospitalizations go down as well in the metro. We can’t throw caution to the wind just yet – we don’t want to see our hospitals get overwhelmed again, especially going into the holidays this winter. But we are at a point now where we can loosen up a bit when it comes to social gatherings. Just remember that gatherings are safest when everyone involved is vaccinated and masked, especially when indoors. Outdoor gatherings are a safer option, weather permitting.”

On Aug. 25, the Health Department issued guidance on social gatherings in light of the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, including urging individuals to significantly limit the number of people in gatherings. This more cautious guidance has been withdrawn in light of the recent reduction in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

When gathering with people who do not live in your household, the UG Health Department encourages people to keep the following in mind:

• Gatherings are safest when everyone present is fully vaccinated.
• Outdoor gatherings are safer than indoor gatherings, as COVID spreads more easily indoors.
• Masks can make gatherings safer, especially indoor gatherings. This is particularly important if some people present are not vaccinated. Please note that Kansas City, Kansas, remains under a mask mandate for public indoor spaces.

If a business, organization, or group is planning a large event and would like guidance from the Health Department on COVID-19 safety for the event, they can email or call 913-573-6712 for assistance.

Free vaccinations and testing

The UG Health Department continues to offer free COVID-19 vaccines for people who live in Wyandotte County age 12 and older, at the former Kmart site at 7836 State Ave. Hours for COVID-19 vaccinations and testing:

• COVID vaccines: Wednesday – Friday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
• COVID testing: Monday – Friday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

For more information on where to get vaccinated in Wyandotte County, visit or call 3-1-1. To learn more about upcoming Health Department mobile vaccination events visit their Facebook page at

To search for additional vaccine providers by location and type of vaccine, go to

Vaccines, tests also available at other locations

COVID-19 testing from WellHealth will be available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, and Friday, Oct. 15, at the Kansas National Guard Armory, 100 S. 20th, Kansas City, Kansas. Appointments are necessary. The site is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To make an appointment, including a same-day appointment, visit

COVID-19 vaccines and tests are available at other locations in Wyandotte County, including some pharmacies. For locations and availability, visit

Free vaccinations at KU Health System are open to the public, and appointments are required. Current patients may use MyChart to make an appointment. Others may call 913-588-1227 or visit to make an appointment to get vaccinated. KU Health System currently is vaccinating residents of Kansas and Missouri who are 12 or older, by appointment only. Those under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian throughout the appointment.

Case numbers reported

The University of Kansas Health System reported 48 total COVID-19 patients on Thursday, Oct. 14, the same as Wednesday, according to Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control. Fourteen patients with the active virus were inpatients on Thursday, a decrease of three from Wednesday. Six patients were in the intensive care unit, a decrease of one from Wednesday. All six patients were on ventilators on Thursday, an increase of one from Wednesday. Thirty-four other patients were still hospitalized from COVID, but were out of the acute infection phase, an increase of three from Wednesday.

Wyandotte County reported a cumulative 24,367 cases on Thursday, Oct. 14, an increase of 36 cases since Wednesday, Oct. 13, according to the Unified Government Health Department’s COVID-19 webpage. There were a cumulative total of 371 deaths on Thursday, an increase of one since Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Oct. 13, the Unified Government Health Department reported that 50.2 percent of Wyandotte County residents had received at least one dose of vaccine. Those completing their vaccinations totaled about 43.76 percent.
The percentage of Wyandotte County residents who were age 12 and older who had received at least one dose was 61.8 percent.

The Mid-America Regional Council reported 220,528 cumulative cases on Wednesday in Greater Kansas City, a nine-county area. There were a cumulative total of 3,030 deaths. The daily average of new hospitalizations was 86.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 421,462 cumulative COVID-19 cases in Kansas on Wednesday, Oct. 13, an increase of 2,121 since Monday, Oct. 11. There was a total of 6,151 cumulative deaths reported statewide, an increase of nine from Monday.

The KDHE reported 76,453 cumulative COVID-19 cases in Johnson County on Wednesday, Oct. 13, an increase of 251 since Oct. 11. Leavenworth County had 10,147 cases on Oct. 13, an increase of 35 since Oct. 11. Sedgwick County (the Wichita area) reported 79,148 cases on Oct. 13, an increase of 455 since Oct. 11.

On Wednesday night, there were a cumulative 44,683,014 COVID-19 cases in the United States, with a cumulative 719,525 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Fifty-seven percent of the U.S. population was fully vaccinated, according to the center.


To view a University of Kansas Health System video, visit

Visit and for more testing sites.

Wyandotte County residents may contact the Health Department at to sign up for a test to be delivered to their home.

For more details about free COVID-19 testing offered by the UG Health Department, visit or call 3-1-1.

To view details about the extension of the mask order in KCK until Nov. 18, visit