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Hiawatha School Board extends remote learning a week

The Hiawatha USD 415 School Board voted in a special meeting Monday night to extend remote learning with a proposed return to in-school learning date of Thursday, Dec. 10.

The board met via Zoom conference with the meeting being aired on the district’s YouTube channel. The vote on remote learning was 5-2 with Tom Simmer, Keith Erdley, Amy Kopp, Jeff Brockhoff and Ian Schuetz voting yes and John Wright and Andrea Groth voting against the motion.

This vote was made after hearing from local and school health officials about cases within the schools, county and concern over numbers increasing this week following the holiday.

County Health Officer Robyn Downard reported to the board that as of Monday night there were 716 total cases with 110 active and 9 deaths. She said the number of positive cases daily went down over the weekend, but Monday morning had started increasing a little as some Thanksgiving exposures had occurred.

She told board members she expected a trend of rising cases this week due to Thanksgiving holiday exposures.

The board also heard from Hiawatha Community Hospital providers Danielle Jagels and Jodi Twombly. Jagels told board members they have seen an increase in staff positivity with 22 positive cases — or 9 percent of staff — in November. She said of those community members tested, they are seeing a 34 percent positivity rate and currently have five in-patients with COVID. Twombly added that the hospital was roughly at 50 percent patient capacity.

Jagels said she polled all of the hospital providers and 8 out of 9 of them recommended extending remote learning due to concern over rising numbers in the community and within the school setting.

“We know students learn better in school,” she said, noting that the trending numbers in the community were of a concern and there were more cases in long term care facilities that led them to make the recommendation for continued remote learning.

The board also heard from district nurses and reviewed the gaiting criteria that had previously been adopted by the board as a guideline for determining whether remote, hybrid or on-site learning was most beneficial. According to numbers, the elementary was in the “red” in all but one section and is showing 8 students and 1 staff member positive.

Nurse Whitney McCauley said since most data to date has shown that most younger children aren’t getting the virus, she was “very concerned” about the multiple positives in elementary. She did confirm that the 8 total did include two family groups, plus individual positive cases.

The middle and high school numbers were slightly better, with most criteria out of the red zone — except for one area at the high school level. At HMS there were 3 positive students and 0 staff as of Monday. At the high school, there were 0 positive staff members and 7 positive students.

Head District Nurse Erin Wenger said the 7 positives at the high school did concern her if the district was considering allowing sports to resume soon.

She also reported that other district staff had been hit hard by the virus and if one more custodian or kitchen worker was gone from any of the buildings, then that building would potentially have to close as those services would not be available. As of Monday, two custodians and two kitchen staff members were out at the elementary, one custodian and one kitchen worker from the middle school and two custodians and one kitchen staff member from the high school.

Superintendent Lonnie Moser confirmed that meals were being served for pickup or delivery on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the remote learning phase.

Board members had extended discussion concerning whether to extend the remote learning. Board President Tom Simmer said he thinks that cases will start to spike this coming week due to exposure at Thanksgiving and that going back on Thursday of this week was too soon.

“I am not in favor of returning,” he said.

Board member Amy Kopp suggested extending the remote learning for just one more week — with a return to classroom scheduled for Dec. 10. She said this would allow health officials time to review data coming in concerning Thanksgiving exposures. Board members Jeff Brockhoff and Keith Erdley also agreed. Brockhoff said historically there is a spike after each holiday and Erdley said he didn’t really feel returning on the 10th would have an effect on community numbers.

Wright told the other board members he felt the students were safer in the schools where conditions were being monitored, rather than out in the community — potentially causing more spread.

Wright also questioned about whether there had been an issue with truancy increasing while the school was on remote and principals reported that had happened with a few students. Fordyce said her staff was doing a lot of following up with students and parents to ensure that students were turning in assignments. Gatz said they had some issues, but were keeping close tabs on students. Carver said his staff was doing the same and keeping tabs on the virtual apps where students were to log in for daily activities. Some grade levels were receiving paper packets with assignments and he said staff has been willing to deliver these if parents cannot get to the school to pick them up.

Winter Sports

The board also voted to hold off on winter sports starting until Dec 10, with Wright casting the lone nay vote against the motion.

This discussion became a little heated as Wright said he felt board members were voting to postpone based “on emotion,” not data and having a “fear of the unknown.” He referenced last week’s Kansas High School Activities Association board of directors meeting, where it was determined that winter sports would continue on time, with a break from Dec. 23 to Jan. 8 but no fans would be allowed until Jan. 28. Wright said experts talked to KSHSAA board members and said that so far the data had shown limited player to player transmission.

Board member Ian Schuetz said he took exception to the remark about basing his decisions on emotion and felt like they all were focusing their decisions based on data from the hospital providers, county health officer and district nurses. Schuetz said he was casting his vote based on logic and to him it was logical to extend one week to determine what the numbers were at next Monday’s meeting. He said that would allow time for any Thanksgiving exposures to become known.

“We’re all trying to pretend our elementary numbers are fine,” he said.

Activities Director Kim Lillie answered questions from board members and said the coaches and players were ready to start practicing as the board allowed it. She said there are plans for livestreaming all games and she was working with other schools to make sure away games were also available to view on Facebook and YouTube. She said the band will be videoed playing and that also will be available for viewing.

Fordyce told the board members that coaches have plans in place to create “corhort groups” of players, where no more than 15 at a time would be at practice at the same time.

When asked, Downard did confirm that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment was still recommending quarantining an entire team — and the team they potentially would have played up to 48 hours prior — if one team member tests positive.

Board member Andrea Groth said she felt that the district should follow the Return to Learn Plan, where it stated that no activities would be held during a remote learning phase. Simmer, Schuetz, Brockhoff, Erdley and Kopp agreed, saying to stick to the current policy that was in place in the Return to Learn plan.

Simmer said he agreed with holding off on sports as well and was also concerned with returning back to school too soon. He discussed his personal battle with COVID-19 and said he has never had an illness that hung on quite this long.

“This thing has no friends,” he said.

Modified Quarantine Protocol

In addition, the board also voted 7-0 to adopt a modified mask protocol, as approved by the Brown County Commission and Brown County Health Department. This mask protocol reduces the number of people quarantined in a situation where students and staff are wearing their approved masks appropriately in a classroom situation or on a bus. Quarantines will focus more on high risk situations, such as lunch time, recess, sporting activities and other times when masks have been removed.

School officials said this would help in terms of reducing the number of staff and students affected by quarantines, noting that confirmed mask to mask transmission has been minimal.

HES Principal Paul Carver told board members that spreading students out 6 feet in all classrooms was a challenge, but they were considering dividers at each desk for lunch time to continue in the classrooms. At the high school, Principal Lori Fordyce said lunch time was a challenge, especially as weather was getting colder and they could not utilize outdoor picnic tables. She said her staff was working on a solution and locations to help spread the students out further, noting there are dividers on the tables. HMS Principal Kylie Gatz said each of the four grades at the middle school had designated separate lunch times and assigned seating and so far that had been working well.

Board members said that enforcement of masks would have to be top priority and that if students were repeat violators of not wearing them they could be asked to transfer to remote learning.

The next board meeting will be next Monday to evaluate the health situation within the school staff, students and the community.

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HCVB unveils design for 2020 Christmas ornament and greeting cards

The Hiawatha Chamber and Visitors Bureau has unveiled the design for this year’s hometown Christmas ornament and greeting cards.

The HCVB began offering the porcelain ornament and greeting cards in 2019 — which featured Santa and reindeer in a sleigh gliding over the Clock Tower. The ornament and card design was created by local artist Katherine Miller, who is also the art instructor at the elementary school and president of the HCVB board. Her business Miller’s Weird Cards is also a Chamber member.

This year’s design is a classic hometown Christmas scene with a horse and sleigh and a woman and young child in front of the Brown County Historical Society’s Memorial Auditorium in downtown Hiawatha.

Miller said she was excited to be asked to design the ornament and card again this year.

“Being able to lend my talents to a non-profit like the HCVB really brings me a lot of joy,” she said. “ I love my hometown, its history, how it comes together in times of challenge and always looks towards the future. Often we take it all for granted, but in truth it’s an attitude that isn’t universal around the world.”

Miller said this year’s imagery reflects that aspect of our town — “Merry Christmas from Hiawatha, KS: Past, Present, and Future” combines the elements with the historic building and sleigh, but with the changes the auditorium has had over the years. Then the tree, to symbolize not only the season, but that we are rooted in the present and growing the the future.

“It’s my greatest hope that it will bring as much joy as last year’s ornament did and continue to remind people what is wonderful about our community,” she said.

Chamber Administrator said the ornaments are circular and come in a collector’s box for $20. The greeting cards, which measure 4x5.5 inches are being sold for $1.99 a card or 20 for $20. Both are available for a limited time.

Kleopfer said the HCVB does have a few of last year’s ornaments available for purchase as well.

Contact the Chamber office at 742-7136 or by email at hiawathachamber@rainbowtel.net to order.

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Dance recital canceled - toys still being collected to benefit Jingle Bell Christmas Store

Stacie’s Dance Academy’s annual Christmas show has been canceled.

Owner Stacie Newell said there had been issues with using the school facilities as in the past, due to the school being on remote learning and all buildings are closed due to this and COVID-19.

Newell reported in a post on the Dance Academy’s Facebook page that the main goal for the Christmas show is to collect toys for the Brown County Christmas Store that helps many families throughout Brown County.

To still accomplish this, the Dance Academy is sponsoring a toy drive on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon in the Fisher Center parking lot to benefit the Christmas Store.

“I encourage all of my dance families to come and drop off a toy and enjoy some hot chocolate and candy canes,” Newell said. “Students can dance if they choose to as we will have Christmas music for all to enjoy.”

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It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Several communities turned on their downtown Christmas lights or held window openings over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

In Hiawatha, the Junior Master of Ceremony was “Every Child in Hiawatha” so in honor of all of the children, Santa Claus flipped the switch on the downtown lights in Hiawatha Monday night.

The event was aired live over the Hiawatha Chamber and Visitor Bureau’s Facebook and as the countdown hit No. 1, each child was supposed to click on the “Love” button and Santa turned on the lights.

Merry and Bright Night: Hiawatha Chamber Administrator Sarah Kleopfer said the HCVB has decided we need some definite holiday cheer and is asking local residents to go all out this year with decorations and Christmas lights and so far approximately 35 homes and businesses have called in to the Chamber office to have their location placed on the map for Merry and Bright Night.

The HCVB will create a map and on Saturday, Dec. 19, they are asking those signed up to have their lights on and decorations out from 6-9:30 p.m. Follow the map around the community and turn on some Christmas tunes while you are at it!

Anyone who doesn’t have lights but want to add to the cheer can still sign up and place a Santa in their windows for people to spy as they travel around the community. The HCVB welcomes lights and displays in the country as well.

Kleopfer said this is not a contest, just a way to spread some cheer. Sign up by Wednesday, Dec. 16 to be on the map, which will be posted on the HCVB social media and available for pick up at the office.

Shop Local: The HCVB is also sponsoring the Shop Local campaign at participating businesses. Earn tickets for each $10 spent and be entered in a drawing to win up one of two prizes – a $700 grand prize and a $400 second-place prize. Participating businesses are Bling on the Nails/Mane Street Salon, Hometown Furniture, Just For You Jewelry and Gifts, Kex Rx Pharmacy, Kooser’s General Store, Mainstreet Flower Shoppe, Sarah Kathryn’s, Tice Health Mart, Tres Soles Salon, Up Cycle, Wright’s Eclectibles.

The HCVB is also collecting donations of Christmas lights to decorate a large community tree. The HCVB also has Chamber Bucks available for purchase to be used as gifts this holiday season. Contact the HCVB for more information or with any questions by calling 742-7136 or by emailing hiawathachamber@rainbowtel.net.

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Keeping yourself – and others safe from COVID-19

As 2020 is winding down, the number of people who have personally been affected by COVID-19 Coronavirus has grown tremendously.

With cases statewide at approximately 162,000 with 1,679 deaths reported as of mid-week, the numbers in the county had risen to 795 on that day. In the month of November alone, the county added more than 500 positive cases of the Coronavirus.

That number is nearly almost 10 percent of the county’s population and doesn’t include the hundreds or thousands who have been quarantined for exposure — or the people who have had a family member, friend or co-worker that’s been affected.

In March, when the pandemic officially hit the United States, there were very minimal local cases – it was a big deal when that first case appeared in the county and when another one was added. Now we are approaching a time when dozens of cases are being added weekly in the county.

Healthcare resources at the Hiawatha Community Hospital and the Health Department are stretched thin, along with those working at care facilities and in other places deemed essential. Many businesses are shortening hours, requiring appointments or just doing business over the phone or internet. This also includes city and county businesses and some local banks.

It’s apparent the Coronavirus is here to stay and our respite in the summer was just that – a break before things got really serious. However, being cautious all these long months has helped hospitals obtain the supplies they needed and allowed healthcare officials the time they needed to put plans in place for an eruption of the virus.

And November seems to be the month for this to happen. The virus has even hit hospital staff as 29 members of the staff had tested positive during the month, compared to only a total of 14 as of Oct. 31.

Hospitals all over the nation are filling up with COVID patients and Hiawatha Community Hospital has reported the option to transfer COVID patients to a higher level of care is not as available as it once was.

This is why healthcare officials are backing the mask mandate – currently in effect in the county until Dec. 7 when the county commission will review once again. The City of Hiawatha also has a mask mandate in effect, with no published ending date as of now. Healthcare officials are advising social distancing and washing of hands multiple times, keeping gatherings very small and with family members who are familiar to your household.

Healthcare officials are also trying to dispel a few myths that have transpired as more of the population has battled COVID and are in recovery.

One of those myths is that a patient who has entered the recovery stages of COVID-19 has a developed an immunity and does not need to worry about taking precautions.

Local healthcare officials and national experts say this isn’t necessarily so. While a body can develop antibodies to a virus following a battle with it, the length of time these antibodies can be present to protect a recovering patient is still up in the air. If a patient has a mild case of COVID, they may develop less antibodies — which means a shorter term of protection. Or immuno-compromised people may develop fewer antibodies.

“While people may be considered ‘immune’ for 90 days that is a fluid term and can give people a false sense of security,” said Ronna Montgomery, Director of Quality, Risk Management and Infection Prevention at Hiawatha Community Hospital. “Every person is different and every immune system varies. KDHE does not currently recommend retesting within the 90 post-recovered window or testing asymptomatic people at this time. Obviously statistics change based off of data obtained and as every new day comes, there is more data to add.”

As the United States is essentially less than a year into fighting the virus, the data hasn’t been gathered and studied much in comparison to other viruses such as Influenza and strep throat.

“That is why it is important that people continue to wear masks and mitigate their own droplet spread to others,” she said. “We are also not yet seeing a large amount of influenza but this will change and we don’t have a crystal ball to know when that will peak. So far, we as a community need to remember that many viral infections spread via droplets and it is important that everyone continue to wear masks. They could be asymptomatically spreading other viral illnesses (such as Influenza A and B). COVID is one of many of the viral illnesses that we have to worry about.”

HCH Laboratory Manager Lindsey Hooper, MLS (ASCP)cm, who has spent countless hours studying the virus, said patients will “shed” the live infective virus up to 14 days typically after the virus onset. This “shedding” is done through waste – which is why the Hiawatha waste water had COVID present during a Kansas Department of Health and Environment testing late last spring. Hooper said with some patients – those who are immunocompromised – have had a live virus recovered up to 20 days following the onset of the illness, but noted this has been rare according to her studies. It’s possible to recover residual, likely non-infective virus RNA for up to 12 weeks after onset of symptoms from recovered patients. She said that by retesting a previously positive COVID-19 patient, within 90 days of initial illness onset may result in another positive result, but that it may not necessarily represent an active infection. She said the Center for Disease Control currently recommends retesting within 90 days for patients who previously tested positive, only if that patient becomes symptomatic again and there is not another diagnosis.

Antibody production typically occurs following an infection or immunization with a pathogen. She said this is the body’s natural response to an invasive virus in order to slow the progression. The presence of these antibodies – along with other specific cells to that virus — can help fight the onset of a virus reoccurrence.

“It is the combination of antibodies and cells that helps to clear the pathogen and also helps should you ever become re-infected with the same pathogen again,” Hooper said, but issued a caution. “The thing to remember is that antibody levels typically decline over time. Your body may produce more if you are re-infected with the same pathogen but it is not guaranteed.”

“Each person’s immune system functions differently so re-infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus is a possibility and showing antibodies after an infection doesn’t mean you should discontinue use of preventative strategies such as mask wearing, good hand, hygiene and social distancing,” she recommended.

Dr. Julie Rosa’, MD and provider at Hiawatha Community Hospital, said it was her understanding that COVID antibodies last approximately 90 days, but recommended still adhering to safety precautions during this time, regardless of a perception of “safety.”

“The more severe the infection, the higher the number of protective antibodies that are present,” she added.

Dr. Rosa’ alluded to a bigger picture that has at times been forgotten.

Dr. Rosa’ said that some people have a perception that they are safe and so therefore, don’t feel they need to take precautions, such as wearing a mask and social distancing is “wrong motivation that I feel our county has/is struggling with.”

“The point of all of the precautions is the “one another”-ness that should characterize our lives,” she said. “We think of others ahead of ourselves; we think of the big picture because our community’s health matters over our convenience. To not wear our masks or follow precautions does many dangerous and selfish things like giving others a false sense of safety when they imitate us or condoning breaking the mask mandate or just flaunting the health of others. I understand the culture shock of COVID, but feel that if we don’t model safe behavior for others, we have failed at our larger calling. That should be true of all of us, whether we are in healthcare or not.”

What do the national experts say? Dr. Roy Chemaly, M.D., and infectious disease and infection control expert at Anderson MD Cancer Center at the University of Texas provided a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” in a recent article on the website www.mdanderson.org.

No. 1 on the list is to NOT assume you’re immune to the coronavirus, even if you’ve had a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis before, he said.

“This disease hasn’t been around for a full year yet, and we’re still learning about it,” Chemaly said in the article. “So, even if you had a severe case and made a full recovery with no complications, we don’t know if natural immunity will protect you or for how long.”

He said whether immunity stems from a vaccine or actual exposure to the virus, experts speculate it may still only be temporary. That means people would likely need a booster shot every year to maintain enough antibodies to provide on-going protection. He also added that cancer patients and other immunocompromised patients may not develop antibodies at all — either to natural infection or to vaccinations. So, it’s even more critical not to assume you’re safe from reinfection if a person would fall into one of these groups.

No. 2 on his list is “DO keep taking all the recommended COVID precautions” by social distancing, wearing a mask, not attending large gatherings and washing hands frequently.

It’s also crucial to protecting others if there’s even the slightest chance you might still be contagious, he continued.

“Take the same precautions you would as if you had not had COVID-19,” Dr. Chemaly said. “Avoid large gatherings of people, and act as if reinfection is still a possibility. Because it might be.”

Montgomery also advised that anyone who has not been vaccinated for influenza should do so soon and recommended that the older population should also inquire with their physician about the pneumonia vaccination and shingles vaccination and what timeframe they should look at getting those.

During the course of studies, the Coronavirus has changed and recommendations change as more data is gathered. It is recommended reviewing the CDC and KDHE websites for the latest information on SARS-CoV-2/Covid-19 information, recommendations and updates.

Longtime owner of Hiawatha Greenhouse - Betty French - passes away

Betty French

Betty Lou French, of Hiawatha, passed away on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at the age of 92.

French was born Aug. 31, 1928 near Troy to William Everett and Verlie May Clary Colley. She was a lifelong resident of Northeast Kansas.

Following years of teaching, she married Bill French and the two owned the Hiawatha Greenhouse for many years. He preceded her in death in 2014.

Survivors include her children Beverly Brock and Tony French and their families of Hiawatha, along with many grandchildren.

Services are being planned at Chapel Oaks Funeral Home in Hiawatha. For complete service and obituary go to www.chapeloaksfuneralhome.com.