Gibbs: Why we stopped reporting outbreaks

To the editor:

Healthy people in a healthy community — that is the goal we strive for every day.

On Dec. 14, we announced the Riley County Health Department would discontinue outbreak reporting.

The only change we made was to stop listing outbreaks in our media releases that go out to the public every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We are still releasing updated case counts, statistical changes, testing information, educational data, best hygiene practices, and what we know about the vaccines.

Why did we stop reporting outbreaks?

In short, the reason we stopped reporting outbreaks is reliability of information, time and the unintended results from posting it. A large number of people we spoke to during contact tracing were unable to accurately determine where they came into contact with the virus due to the large scale community spread — limiting our ability to factually record the data.

As the number of positive coronavirus cases continues to increase, we are focusing our limited time and resources on actions that we believe will reduce the spread and discontinue other time-intensive tasks that may not produce the same results. A major time shift started this week as we received the first coronavirus vaccines on Monday. We are focusing our efforts on the planning and preparation for vaccine distribution throughout health care, emergency services, and soon the community.

Outbreak information lagged by several days and in some cases weeks due to the limits of contact tracing. That lag paired with the widespread transmission of the virus in our community made the data insufficient to proactively protect residents. The unintended result is that some people were basing their behaviors on published outbreak locations which were incomplete and dated.

We believe in using evidence-based practices to protect the health and safety of Riley County. We recognize the critical need for transparency in government, and will continue to work to provide as much factual information as possible to empower you to make actionable choices to help stop the spread.

Julie Gibbs

Riley County Health Department Director and Local Health Officer

Redistricting is necessary for USD 383

To the editor:

In the Sunday, Dec. 13, Manhattan Mercury, Damon Fairchild questions the wisdom of USD 383 going through its current redistricting process. He asserts that the full three-phase master plan should be completed before USD 383 goes through a full redistricting. There are two basic problems with that assertion. First, the master plan is not a locked-in plan. It is set of recommendations from BG Consultants. The board is under no obligation to follow any of it. Second, a full redistricting in early 2021 was always part of the district’s plan in order to be ready when Oliver Brown Elementary opens in the fall of 2021.

I served on the Facilities and Growth committee for most of my 16 years on the USD 383 Board of Education. In the mid-2000s, the Ebert Mayo Design Group was hired to develop a master plan in order to lay the groundwork for what became the 2008 bond issue. The plan submitted to the Board of Education included three phases, just like the current master plan. The first phase called for nearly $130 million in upgrades to every attendance center. At that time, the board and district administration did not believe that the community would support a bond issue of that size, and thus began a painstaking process of whittling down the bond proposal to $97.5 million. I revisit this to demonstrate that while the Board of Education accepted Ebert Mayo’s three-phase master plan back then, it did not stick to even the first phase of that plan.

The first phase of the current master plan developed by BG Consultants was kept largely intact by the Board of Education, but there was some tinkering done around the edges. The patrons approved the 2018 Bond Issue and construction is now in full swing on many of the district’s sites. Until all of the projects in that bond issue are finished, I doubt if there is a single person on the board or in district administration who is going to spend time thinking about phase two, or beyond. There are a myriad of reasons for this that I will not go into now.

There are two core concepts in the current bond issue. One core item is to build a new elementary school in order to alleviate the over-crowding occurring in most of the districts K-6 buildings. The second core concept is to get the district’s ninth graders into a better learning environment. The bond issue was presented to the voters around these two key concepts.

Specifically, the parents and teachers of students in the overcapacity elementary buildings were promised opening a new attendance center, along with moving sixth graders into the middle schools, would relieve overcrowding across the district, including the buildings on the west side of town. At this point, the only viable way to alleviate elementary overcrowding districtwide is to move some students into the buildings emptied by the opening of Oliver Brown School. Thus, the district is engaged in redistricting students equitably amongst the attendance centers. To not do so would be the height of malfeasance. Leaving westside schools overcrowded while some of the eastside schools are under capacity would be a violation of promises made to the adults, as well as an ethical violation towards the students.

Having been involved in multiple rounds of redistricting, both as a parent and as a member of the Board of Education, I can verify that it is a hard process. It is hardest on the parents. The kids generally adapt quite well to their new environment. All three of my daughters had to switch elementary schools mid-stream. They not only survived, they thrived. As a member of the Board, I saw the families who were sure the world was ending by having to change buildings, then fall in love with the new facility, its teachers, and its staff. I have every confidence that I will see that same process repeat this time around.

Dave Colburn

1906 Bluestem Terrace

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