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USD 383 to close Friday to help alleviate COVID-related staffing shortage

The Manhattan-Ogden school district closed all schools Friday as administrators deemed USD 383 couldn’t field an adequate number of staff as the largest wave of COVID-19 cases affects the community.

In an update from USD 383 superintendent Marvin Wade on Thursday morning, he wrote the district would use Friday as one of its built-in “weather days,” or days intentionally left open on the calendar, to give students and staff a four-day weekend to “hopefully get healthy.”

Wade said no remote learning will take place Friday; this effectively gives students and staff in the district a four-day weekend with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday.

The district planned for events and activities slated for Friday to continue as planned. But Manhattan High boys basketball head coach Benji George told The Mercury on Thursday that the boys and girls basketball teams wouldn’t play Friday because of cases with both teams.

Wade said COVID-19 numbers across the district are making it “extremely difficult for us to maintain an adequate number of staff.”

Wade said on a typical school week, the district averages about 50 licensed staff absences per day. He said the district typically isn’t able to secure about five substitutes for those absences.

“During the week of Jan. 10, the district has averaged 85 licensed staff absences a day and been short an average of 15 substitutes per day,” Wade said. “Our classified departments are also facing short staffing due to staff illness.”

USD 383 has faced a staffing shortage since last year, but it grew increasingly severe following the winter break.

College Hill Early Learning Center already had been operating remotely for the week because of an increase in quarantines related to COVID-19.

Officials said in a statement last Friday that 70% of the building’s students were in quarantine or had been identified as close contacts.

Wade wrote that closing districtwide on Friday is a “short-term sacrifice” made to increase the chances of keeping children in school in-person, five days a week.

He encouraged people to stay home if they are feeling ill, follow the district’s masking policy, avoid large crowds, and get vaccinated.

This decision comes as Riley County has experienced a significant leap in COVID cases.

The health department on Wednesday reported 1,202 new COVID cases since its last report on Jan. 5. For comparison, since the pandemic started in March 2020, only two months have had higher totals of cases — 1,495 in November 2020 and 1,208 and December 2020.

Last week, USD 383 Assistant Superintendent Eric Reid said to the school board that COVID-19 and other illness, like the flu, hit the district simultaneously as classes resumed on Jan. 4.

Reid said the district came back to the highest week of positive cases it has seen since the pandemic started.

For the week of Jan. 2 to 8, the district had 128 students and 42 staff members test positive for COVID. USD 383 also had 274 students and 13 staff members in quarantine during that week. The district had an attendance rate of 87% for students and 83% for staff.

USD 383 spokeswoman Michele Jones said the district’s previous highs for cases in a week happened Nov. 14 through 20, 2021, when 27 students and 16 staff members tested positive. At that time, 342 students and 72 staff members were in quarantine.

“Not everything’s going to get done the way we want it to, but we’re going to take care of the crucial things first,” Reid said at the Jan. 5 board meeting. “What I promise is that we’ll fight tooth and nail to stay open, but it’s putting an extreme challenge on every department we have.”

Classes in USD 383 are scheduled to resume on Tuesday.

Rock Creek middle, elementary schools closed Thursday and Friday

Two schools in the Rock Creek School District was closed Thursday and Friday because of staff shortages.

Rock Creek Schools superintendent Kevin Logan wrote on Twitter Wednesday night that St. George Elementary and Rock Creek Middle School were closed for those two days because of staff shortages and substitute teacher unavailability.

Logan told The Mercury the unavailability is because of illness with people quarantining or taking sick days. He said everyone is “exhausted.”

Rock Creek High School remained open Thursday and Friday. Middle school activities scheduled for those days may be reset.

Additionally, Logan said St. George Elementary had minimal damage noted after a water leak Tuesday.

He said the leak was found Tuesday morning at a urinal in one of the elementary school bathrooms. He said the urinal would not shut off and ended up flooding several classrooms and hallways within the “green” wing of the building that houses second and third grades.

Logan said there was about an inch of water on the floor after workers shut the water off. The district canceled classes Tuesday because of the flooding, but school resumed as normal Wednesday, but was canceled again Thursday and Friday because of the virus.

Logan said teachers and staffers in the building helped clean up over the course of Tuesday afternoon.

Officials said soft items like paper and a few books were the only things damaged. Logan said the dollar loss is expected to be “minimal.”

Coronavirus cases cause Spring Valley Elementary to close for two days

JUNCTION CITY — Spring Valley Elementary School was closed Thursday and Friday this week because too many staff members have COVID-19, and the school cannot operate normally.

Geary County School District’s COVID-19 team, including Superintendent Reginald Eggleston, Emergency Management Director Scott Clark, Chief Operations Officer David Wild and Personnel Services Director Tim Winter, made the decision Wednesday afternoon, after evaluating the situation.

At the Board of Education meeting Monday, Eggleston announced that the district’s quarantine timeline shortened to five days, following the new recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With the upcoming three-day weekend, Marketing and Media Specialist Lindley Lund said the district is hoping enough staff will have finished quarantining by the time the school opens again on Tuesday to resume normal operations.

“We’re hoping with it being a three-day weekend with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, that will give some time so that if people do need to stay at home to quarantine, hopefully the next five days off with help so that when we return on Tuesday there will be more staff available,” Lund said.

Lund said the COVID-19 team met Thursday morning with the principals of the other schools in the district to monitor how the higher COVID-19 numbers are affecting each of the district’s schools. Currently, the district has not made the decision to shut any other schools down for any amount of time. Lund said the school district is not planning to change any of its procedures currently.

The district requires all students, staff and visitors to wear masks in its facilities and vehicles.

“The safety of our students and our staff is always at the front of our plans, so we, as a community, have to focus on that,” Lund said. “Hopefully our families understand that this was a necessary precaution to take during this time.”

Gibbs: COVID surge won't reach its peak for a week or two

COVID-19 cases are surging in Riley County, but local health officials said we won’t see the peak for a week or more.

Riley County Health director Julie Gibbs and Ascension Via Christi president Bob Copple spoke on Facebook live on Thursday.

As college students return to town and indoor events continue, numbers may stay elevated for awhile, Gibbs said. “We are hopeful that within the next week or two we’ll see that peak, and we’ll start to get some relief,” she said.

Gibbs said the department is seeing more Omicron variants among COVID-19 cases.

“We can almost say with absolute certainty that most of our new cases are the Omicron due to the fact that it’s spreading so quickly,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs said Omicron peaks about 24 days after it arrives in a given location.

Copple said in terms of severity of cases, the hospital has lost more people in the last 90 days than in the previous 18 months.

Between Oct. 14 and Jan. 14, 13 people at the hospital died from COVID-related causes. Since Ascension Via Christi’s first COVID-related death on April 25, 2020, 50 people have died at the hospital.

“We have had a third of all of our COVID deaths in the last 90 days,” Copple said.

Copple also said that over the last month, he is seeing more hospital patients in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, and many are unvaccinated.

Copple said he talked to outpatient primary care providers in Manhattan; they said they have never in their careers seen the volume of patients they are seeing right now.

“That’s because COVID is not happening within a vacuum,” Copple said. “We still have all of the normal things that happen in January. So we have flu, we have strep, we have lots of people getting colds.”

Officials recommend N-95 or medical masks. At this time Gibbs does not plan to issue any mask or health orders for Riley County.

Copple also said he and other health entities across the state are suffering from staffing shortages.

“Our healthcare workers are now out because of this wave of COVID,” Copple said. “Because everyone lives in a community, we don’t really have community mitigation steps in place anywhere.”

Gibbs said there are currently 1,017 active cases in Riley County; she said this is the highest number of cases that the county has seen since the start of the pandemic.

Gibbs encourages people to get tested if they have symptoms. She is also asking residents to consider getting vaccinated. Testing is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at Manhattan Town Center, and the health department is still providing vaccinations by appointment on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Army offers reward in Fort Riley woman's killing last fall

JUNCTION CITY — The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in a shooting death at Milford State Park last year.

Enfinnity Hayes, 22, of Fort Riley, was killed on Oct. 3 while she was at the group shelter in Milford State Park.

The Geary County Sheriff’s Office said Hayes was with her husband when a man shot her while trying to rob the couple. Her husband drove her to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

The sheriff’s office described the suspect as being at least 6-foot-1 and dressed in all black.