Lawrence limits gathering sizes but alters gating criteria to keep students in school

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – New restrictions were announced Thursday that will restrict gathering sizes in Douglas County to 15 people, moving closer to what we saw at the beginning of the pandemic. But at the same time, right before the Lawrence School Board meeting where they were deciding whether to go back to virtual classrooms, health officials changed gating criteria to allow schools to remain in the hybrid mode.

Some Lawrence residents have nervously been watching the numbers with now 44 new cases of COVID-19 per day in Douglas County up from 17 a month ago.

“Things opened up the numbers went up. Everything is going up so fast you’ve got to do something,” Shawn Schwartz said.

Dr. Thomas Marcellino, Douglas County’s Local Health Officer agreed. He says the spike is from a lapse in mask wearing and points to parties believed to have happen on the campus of KU during Halloween weekend for the spike.  As a result  he reduced Douglas County’s mass gathering limit from 45 to 15 people effective Friday, November 13.

 “It’s going to limit what we can do for holidays coming up but it’s not something that I mind because I don’t want COVID and the last thing I want to do is get it, be asymptomatic and give it to someone. I don’t want to put somebody else in the hospital,’ Schwartz said.

Thursday night the Health Officer answered one question a lot of KU fans probably have, what does this mean for basketball?

“What we are going to ask is that the athletes wear masks when they are competing in the games. Little kids are doing it at Rock Chalk Park right now it can be done,” he explained. 

He went on to explain that basketball games might not be played in Douglas County if competitors refused to wear masks.

Those comments came at a Lawrence School Board meeting where Marcellino also explained his reasoning for allowing both sports and hybrid learning to continue in the orange zone of gating criteria, based on better testing and quarantining. The last minute guidance before the meeting sparked the ire of some school board members. 

The Paraeducator Association of Lawrence-Communication Workers of America called on the board Thursday to honor their commitment to community safety and move Lawrence Public Schools to remote learning.

“What is your hardline, because I am getting beat up over this. I want to understand why you can move this an hour before we are supposed to make decisions,” Kelly Jones, Lawrence School Board member, asked Marcellino.

“I feel like every precaution that they feel is good to take we should take,”John Fields said when approached about the restrictions.

 School board members said their trust in health experts is wavering, but accepted the medical recommendations for now.

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