Kansas School District Goes From 13 Staff COVID Cases Before Winter Break to 172 After

School is back in session for most students across the country, but after a Kansas district reported a COVID-19 outbreak among students and staff following winter break, well over 1,500 people no longer are in school due to exposure.

The Wichita School District reported a drastic increase in COVID-19 cases among staff members after returning from winter break. Before the break, there were 13 staff members who tested positive for COVID-19, but since returning there have been 172 positive cases, district spokesperson Susan Arensman said.

The district saw a large absence among both students and staff in the classroom on Monday. Roughly 1,274 out of 47,000 students and 399 out of 7,600 employees weren't in school because they were exposed.

Arensman said they've had to "be creative" to cover the loss of teachers in the district. For now, central office staff members with teaching degrees are helping in some of the schools to help cover the staffing shortages.

The schools aren't the only ones facing staffing shortages because of COVID-19. Some paramedics in the Kansas City area are working upwards of 80 hours a week to help cover the shifts of other employees who called out sick.

"I can't emphasize this enough...our crews are making huge personal sacrifices to make sure that when someone calls 911 that an ambulance is there," said Chris Winger, an EMS battalion chief, who worked 78 hours last week.

Kansas School Districts COVID-19 Surge
The Wichita, Kansas, School Districts reported that 172 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 after winter break when only 13 cases were reported before break. Hannibal Hanschke/Getty Images

Winger said some ambulance patients are being taken straight to the hospital waiting room.

"Emergency services is just very saturated right now," he said.

Since December 1, Kansas has seen an average of 42 new hospitalizations a day, up from 27 in November, according to state health department data.

The number of people out sick in the Wichita School District was more than three times the amount of students and seven times as many staff members who were quarantining in late November.

The situation has led the Kansas State Board of Education to announce that no in-person attendees will be allowed at its meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The number of patients continues to climb at the University of Kansas Hospital, hitting 162 on Monday. Among them, 119 are still in the infectious phase of the illness, a record amount for the hospital since the start of the pandemic. On top of that, 850 employees were out over the weekend, either isolating because they were positive or because they were waiting for test results.

"So it's obviously a big number. We've got to supplant those individuals at the bedside in every way that we can," said Chris Ruder, the hospital's chief operating officer. That means surgeries and clinics have been canceled and staff is being shifted to bedside care.

Ruder attributed the strain to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

"It is putting us in the situation we're in currently today without the ability to provide care across our country and in areas that patients need," he said.

Last week, Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez expressed concern about continuing in-person court hearings as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

Valdez said in a news release that she was working to gather input from the public on whether they felt comfortable participating in in-person hearings amid the current surge of cases.

Joe Reardon, president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, said employers are having to make tough decisions and take precautions like requiring masks again.

"And the bottom line is if we don't do this and we let the spread continue, you're going to see the notes on the door that say, you know, we've had to close down because we don't have the staff," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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