COVID-19 case in Blue Valley elementary school: More than 100 told to quarantine

More than 100 people have been instructed to quarantine after being in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 at Blue Valley’s Timber Creek Elementary School in Overland Park.

Sanmi Areola, county health director, confirmed on Monday that the department is investigating more than 100 exposures at the school. Timber Creek had reported three COVID-19 cases as of last week, according to district data. Officials have not said whether it was a student or staff member who tested positive.

Areola said the health department determined a 14-day quarantine is the “appropriate mitigation action to contain the spread.” Spokeswoman Barbara Mitchell said the county will not specify whether students, staff or family members have been instructed to quarantine, citing privacy concerns.

The district allowed elementary students to return to in-person classes Sept. 9 in a hybrid model, going to school buildings part of the week and learning remotely for the rest.

Blue Valley spokeswoman Kaci Brutto said the district became aware of the exposures Sept. 16. As of that date, Timber Creek had reported three cases in the school, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard. Unlike many other districts, Blue Valley is releasing data showing the number of coronavirus cases by building each week.

During the first week of classes, the dashboard showed 16 cases districtwide. Last week, 19 more cases were reported. The district does not specify whether staff or students tested positive.

The Johnson County health department on Saturday sent a letter to Blue Valley Superintendent Tonya Merrigan, urging affected “families and staff” to abide by the quarantine.

“Our overarching goal is to keep students in school, which means that we must prevent the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in a school. We do this together by taking prompt and timely actions that limit the number of students, staff and teachers that are exposed,” Areola wrote. “It is very important to adhere to quarantine recommendations, so the spread does not become wider, impacting even more people.”

Several parents, who have been pushing for schools to fully reopen despite rising coronavirus cases, protested the quarantine on Sunday. They held a rally at the school, 16451 Flint St., fighting the decision, even though district and county leaders have made it clear for months that students would be instructed to quarantine if they are exposed to a positive case in school.

Christine White, a pediatrician with Johnson County Pediatrics who has frequently called for schools to reopen, hosted the rally. On Facebook, she called the quarantine a “massive overreaction.”

“It is time for us not to take the poor decisions and recommendations of the Johnson County Health Dept laying down,” White wrote on Facebook. “I understand parents have been fighting this fight for many weeks. … Please understand that if we let this action by the health department and school go unchecked and we let them slide, then they will know we have a breaking point where we will just lay down and accept the crumbs of an education for our children.”

Health officials across the country are instructing students and staff to quarantine for 14 days after being in contact with an infected person. It has been common practice throughout the pandemic in an effort to limit further spread of the virus.

Johnson County remains in the “red” zone, per the health department’s school reopening criteria, due to high spread of the virus. Health officials urge families to social distance, wear masks and abide by quarantine instructions to lower the number of new cases and allow schools to safely reopen fully.

“We are appealing to Blue Valley families and staff, to your commitment to health in our county and to your support for keeping students in school. We strongly urge Blue Valley families and staff to follow the quarantine recommendation,” Areola wrote in the letter. “This is an essential step in limiting the virus from inadvertently and unconsciously being spread to others within a school building.”

Out of the elementary schools, Timber Creek reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases last week, according to the district’s data. Stilwell Elementary reported two cases last week. Morse, Leawood and Overland Trail elementary schools reported one case each. Overland Trail also reported two cases during the first week of classes.

Also during the first week of school, Blue River and Mission Trail elementary schools reported one case each.

The school that has reported the most cases out of the entire district was Blue Valley High School, with seven cases the first week and three cases last week. High school and middle school students have not returned to classrooms, but staff have been in school buildings, and high school sports are allowed to continue.

Younger students are allowed to return to classrooms because health officials have said they are less susceptible to the virus and they may not be safe staying home alone.

While the district does not provide specific information related to the cases, Blue Valley’s data provides an early glimpse into how the virus may begin spreading throughout schools and the community as more students are allowed to return to class.

Blue Valley officials plan to bring elementary students back to classrooms, five days a week, starting Oct. 5.

As of Monday morning, Johnson County had reported 10,162 coronavirus cases, and 141 residents have died from the virus. The positivity rate, or the percent of positive tests over the past 14 days, was 12.4%. That rate would need to be lower than 5% for county health officials to recommend schools fully reopen.