CLAY CENTER — Individuals who spent time at Crooked Creek Country Club or its clubhouse here anytime from July 3 through July 8 and didn’t wear masks or remain physically distanced from others are being asked to take precautions related to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.
On Saturday afternoon, the country club announced on social media that some staff and patrons had tested positive for the viral infection as of that day.
On Wednesday, the club had announced that some out-of-county residents who had played in a tournament there on July 3 had tested positive, and that the golf course still was open but the clubhouse was being closed except for drink and snack service through the window and for restroom use.
In Saturday’s post, the club said as far as officials know, no staff members had been symptomatic while working. All staff began wearing masks on Wednesday, the day the clubhouse was closed to walk-in traffic.
Later Saturday, Crooked Creek posted a message it had received from South Heartland saying it and the neighboring Public Health Solutions Health Department had investigated the positive cases associated with the country club and notified close contacts to go into quarantine.
“It is still possible that others we are not aware of may have been exposed,” South Heartland said. “Therefore, the health departments are recommending precautions for all individuals who were at the golf course or clubhouse on or after Friday, July 3, through Wednesday, July 8, AND were not wearing masks or physically distanced from others.”
People in that category are urged to self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days from the date they were at Crooked Creek, always wear a mask or cloth face covering when around others, and keep 6 feet apart from others.
Anyone who experiences symptoms or has questions should contact South Heartland at 402-462-6211 or Public Health Solutions at 402-826-3880.
Both health departments are urging everyone out in public to maintain 6-foot distances from others, use face covers when around others, wash hands frequently, and stay home when experiencing any symptoms.
South Heartland’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard, which is maintained on its website and updated daily, indicates two more laboratory-confirmed cases of the infection were recorded in the four-county health district on Friday and an additional three were recorded on Saturday.
Three of the five new patients are Adams County residents, and the other two live in Clay County, health department record keeping indicates.
For more information, visit the website at southheartlandhealth.org.
CLAY CENTER — The swine show wrapped up a truncated Clay County Fair for 4-H exhibitors on Saturday morning on the Clay County Fairgrounds.
Due to health concerns from the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, the fair board decided to cancel most of the fair’s annual activities. Only the 4-H shows and exhibits remained on the schedule.
Deanna Peshek, office manager at the Clay County Extension Office and a fair board member, said officials devised a plan to incorporate the health protocols set out by the state. Most of the shows were held at the fairgrounds, though a few were conducted virtually online.
She said they wanted to host as many events in person as possible as a way to honor the hard work the exhibitors put into their projects leading up to the fair, especially considering the disruption as the pandemic led to the closure of schools and most other activities.
“So much had been taken away,” she said. “This certainly gives them a chance to have some normalcy.”
Setting up for the fair was different this year, as well. Some things required less prep work while others needed additional setup, such as preparing live streaming for events.
Scheduling was different, as well. Normally, Peshek said, officials would weigh animals at some point during the week since the livestock was kept at the fairgrounds. This year, weighing and other preparations had to be finished up shortly before the contestants stepped into the arena. They tried to prepare as much in advance as possible, but some aspects had to wait.
The extension office offered livestreaming of the events and added a hand sanitizer station for visitors. They had volunteers wipe down the restrooms and common touch areas every 30 minutes to an hour. Volunteers handed out water while wearing masks.
The fair started Wednesday and wrapped up on Saturday. The livestock auction was canceled this year.
Peshek thanked the participants for being flexible as they planned this year.
At first, they didn’t plan to include the Clover Kids in the contests to help reduce the number of people in the area. Two weeks ago, they decided to include the Clover Kids, as well, when the directed health measures relaxed.
Changes continued even into the week of the fair.
Initially, organizers allowed each exhibitor to bring along just two adults due to directed health measures. When the health guidelines in the area changed on Monday, they were able to allow grandparents to attend, as well.
“We really appreciate that people were very tolerant and very understanding,” Peshek said. “It felt good to know we’re all in it together.”
Lily Griess, 13, of Sutton said it was different to only bring in animals right before each show. She didn’t have to bring in fans and other equipment to keep the swine at the fairgrounds for a week.
She said it was easier in some ways, but more difficult in others.
Joseph Hinrichs, 18, of Sutton said being in the arena felt much the same as years past, but everything else around the fair had changed.
“The fair doesn’t really feel like the fair,” he said.
He missed the rodeo and other activities that exhibitors participated in while they weren’t caring for their livestock.
“That’s when you get to relax and enjoy those parts of the fair,” Hinrichs said.
As the Trump administration pushes full steam ahead to force schools to resume in-person education, public health experts warn that a one-size-fits-all reopening could drive infection and death rates even higher.
They’re urging a more cautious approach, which many local governments and school districts are already pursuing.
But U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos doubled down on President Donald Trump's insistence that kids can safely return to the classroom.
“There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous,” she told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday."
Still, health experts say there are too many uncertainties and variables for back-to-school to be back-to-normal.
Where is the virus spreading rapidly? Do students live with aged grandparents? Do teachers have high-risk health conditions that would make online teaching safest? Do infected children easily spread COVID-19 to each other and to adults?
Regarding the latter, some evidence suggests they don’t, but a big government study aims to find better proof. Results won’t be available before the fall, and some schools are slated to reopen in just a few weeks.
“These are complicated issues. You can’t just charge straight ahead,” Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday during an online briefing.
Children infected with coronavirus are more likely than adults to have mild illnesses, but their risk for severe disease and death isn’t zero. While a virus-linked inflammatory condition is uncommon, most children who develop it require intensive care, and a few have died. Doctors don’t know which children are at risk.
“The single most important thing we can do to keep our schools safe has nothing to do with what happens in school. It’s how well we control COVID-19 in the community,” Frieden said. “Right now there are places around the country where the virus is spreading explosively and it would be difficult if not impossible to operate schools safely until the virus is under better control.”
Zahrah Wattier teaches high school in Galveston, Texas, where cases and deaths have been spiking. Until the state recently said schools must reopen to in-person classes, her district had been weighing options many others are considering, including full-time online teaching or a hybrid mix.
Wattier's school has mostly Hispanic and Black students, many from low-income families; almost 70% qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches and many have parents who work in “essential” jobs that increase potential exposure to the virus. Online education was hard for many with limited internet access, and Wattier knows in-person classes can help even the playing field.
But she’s worried.
“My school has over 2,000 students. That’s over 2,000 exposures in a day,” said Wattier, whose parents live with the family and are both high-risk. “It’s a lot to think about. It’s my job. It’s something I choose to do, it’s something I love. Now it comes at a really high risk.’’
The American Academy of Pediatrics, whose guidance the Trump administration has cited to support its demands, says the goal is for all students to be physically present in school. But, it adds, districts must be flexible, consult with health authorities and be ready to pivot as virus activity waxes and wanes.
“It is not that the American Academy of Pediatrics thinks this is a done deal because we have put out guidance,” said Dr. Nathaniel Beers, a member of the academy’s school health council. “But what we do know is that we need to have a more realistic dialogue about the implications of virtual learning on the future of children. We have left whole swaths of society behind, whether it’s because they have limited access to a computer, or broadband internet,” or because of other challenges that online education can’t address.
DeVos said local school officials are smart enough to know when conditions are not right.
“There’s going to be the exception to the rule, but the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall,” she told CNN's “State of the Union."
“And where there are little flare-ups or hot spots, that can be dealt with on a school by school or a case by case basis.”
Following CDC and academy guidelines would mean big changes for most schools. Mask-wearing would be strongly encouraged for adult staff and students except the youngest. Desks would be distanced at least 3 feet apart; the CDC recommends 6 feet. Both suggest limiting adults allowed in schools, including parents, and canceling group activities like choir and assemblies. Staggered arrival and dismissal times, outdoor classes, and keeping kids in the same classroom all day are other options.
President Trump has threatened federal funding cuts for districts that don’t fully reopen.
DeVos defended that stance, saying, “American investment in education is a promise to students and their families.”
“If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds, and give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise," she said on “Fox News Sunday."
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called DeVos' comments “malfeasance and dereliction of duty.”
“They’re messing, the president and his administration are messing with the health of our children," the California Democrat told CNN's “State of the Union."
While most funding typically comes from state and local sources, experts say schools will need more federal funding, not less, to reopen safely. Masks, extra cleaning supplies or janitors, additional classroom space, and mental health support for students and staff traumatized by the pandemic are among potential costs. And with more parents out of work, more children will qualify for federally funded school lunches.
Lynn Morales, 49, teaches 8th grade English at a high-poverty public school in Bloomington, Minnesota, that is considering several options including in-person classes; a final decision is expected Aug. 1.
Some colleagues are considering not returning to the classroom because their children’s day care centers aren’t reopening. Some say they won’t come back until there’s a vaccine.
“I am concerned and it’s because of the age group,” Morales said. ‘’Middle school students ... are lovely and I love them, but they touch, they get close, they roughhouse. It is their nature. They’re 13 years old. They are defiant.”
“If masks are required and a kid isn’t wearing a mask, is my job description going to be to chase down this kid and insist they wear a mask? And what if they don’t?’’
Dr. Emily Landon, a University of Chicago infectious disease specialist, is helping the university and a campus preK-12 school decide how to reopen safely.
“Things are evolving from, ‘We can’t do it unless it’s perfectly safe’ to more of a harm reduction model, with the caveat that you can always step back” if virus activity flares, Landon said.
Single-occupancy dorms, outdoor classes, socially distanced classrooms and mask-wearing by students and faculty are on tap for the university. Face coverings will be required at the school too. Policies may change depending on virus activity.
She dismisses complaints from some parents who say masks are a loss of personal freedom.
“It’s not harmful for your child,” she said. “If you see wearing masks as a loss of personal freedom, then you have to think the same of pants.”
Dr. Tina Hartert of Vanderbilt University is leading a National Institutes of Health-funded study to determine what role children play in transmitting COVID-19. Almost 2,000 families are enrolled and self-test every two weeks. The idea is to find infected children without symptoms and see how easily disease spreads within families. Results may come by year’s end.
“If we don’t see significant transmission within households, that would be very reassuring,” Hartert said.
She noted that in other countries where schools have reopened, evidence suggests no widespread transmission from children.
In France, public schools reopened briefly before a summer break, with no sign of widespread virus transmission. Masks were only required for upper grades, but students stayed in the same classroom all day. A better test will be when the new school year starts Sept. 1.
In Norway, schools closed in March for several weeks. Nursery schools reopened first, then other grades. Children were put in smaller groups that stay together all day. Masks aren't required. There have been only a few virus cases, said Dr. Margrethe Greve-Isdahl of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, but she noted virus activity is much lower than in the U.S.
Kati Spaniak, a realtor in Northbrook, Illinois, says her five teenage daughters have struggled to cope with pandemic fears, school closures and deficits of online learning. She strongly supports getting kids back in the classroom, and all her girls will return to some form of that in the fall.
It’s been hard for her high school senior, Kylie Ciesla. Prom, graduation and other senior rituals were canceled, and there were no good-byes. “Just to get ripped away from everything I’ve worked for 12 years, it’s really hard,” Kylie said.
At college, classes will be in person, masks mandated and a COVID-19 test required before she can move into her dorm. Kylie isn’t sure all that is needed.
“I hate that this thing has become so political. I just want the science. I want to know what we need to do to fix it,” she said.
AP reporters John Leicester and Arno Pedram in Paris contributed to this report.
Follow AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner at @LindseyTanner.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
This story was first published on July 12, 2020. It was updated on July 13, 2020, to correct the name of the member of the American Academy of Pediatrics school health council. He is Dr. Nathaniel Beers, not Dr. Nicholas Beers.
NEW YORK — Crowded bars and house parties have been identified as culprits in spreading the coronavirus. Meat packing plants, prisons and nursing homes are known hot spots. Then there’s the complicated case of America’s churches.
The vast majority of these churches have cooperated with health authorities and successfully protected their congregations. Yet from the earliest phases of the pandemic, and continuing to this day, some worship services and other religious activities have been identified as sources of local outbreaks.
They are by no means at the top of the list of problematic activities across the U.S., but they have posed challenges for government leaders and public health officials whose guidelines and orders are sometimes challenged as encroachments on religious liberty.
“If we wanted to have zero risks, the safest thing would be to never open our doors,” said prominent Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress. “The question is how can you balance risk with the very real need to worship.”
In the past two weeks alone, there have been two notable church-government confrontations in California.
San Francisco’s city attorney sent a cease-and-desist order in late June to the Roman Catholic archdiocese, alleging that some of its churches had violated a local ban on large indoor gatherings. The archdiocese promised to comply.
A few days later, state officials temporarily banned “indoor singing and chanting activities” at all places of worship, prompting some pastors to defy the rule.
Evangelical pastor Samuel Rodriguez said worshippers at his Sacramento megachurch joined in singing hymns on July 5, even as most of them wore face masks and obeyed social-distancing guidelines.
“To forbid singing in a church is morally reprehensible,” Rodriguez said. “That is how we petition heaven.”
The extent to which religious gatherings have contributed to the pandemic’s toll may never be known with any precision. But there’s no question they have played a role throughout, internationally as well as in the United States, even as myriad houses of worship halted in-person services for safety reasons.
Of the first wave of cases in South Korea in February, several thousand were members of the secretive Shincheonji Church of Jesus. Hundreds of other cases were linked to a Muslim missionary movement event in late February in Malaysia that was attended by about 16,000 people from numerous East Asian countries.
In the second week of March, before warnings and lockdown orders proliferated in the U.S., 35 of the 92 people who attended events at a rural Arkansas church developed COVID-19, and three of them died, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report issued in May.
More recently, in mid-June, a small-town church in northeastern Oregon became the epicenter of the state’s largest coronavirus outbreak when 236 people linked to the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church tested positive.
According to the Observer newspaper in nearby La Grande, the church in Island City had held religious services, a wedding and a graduation ceremony in the weeks preceding the outbreak, sometimes with more than 100 people in attendance in defiance of state restrictions on gatherings.
Union County, with a population of 25,000 people, had recorded fewer than 25 cases during the pandemic prior to the church outbreak. Within two weeks, it had Oregon’s highest per capita rate of coronavirus infections.
Also in June, West Virginia’s health department announced outbreaks linked to five churches in different parts of the state. The biggest was at Graystone Baptist Church in Lewisburg with 51 cases, three of them fatal.
In several cases, churches that resumed in-person services opted to close again after outbreaks. Among them:
— A church and an administrative office affiliated with the Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee, which is the home base for the Pentecostal denomination. No official case count has been released, but a senior leader of the denomination, General Overseer Tim Hill, confirmed that the number of verified cases is growing, and that several church leaders were among those seriously ill. One pastor, Ernie Varner of Lenoir City, Tennessee, died Friday, six days after posting on Facebook, “I’m in the ICU with COVID. Please pray for me.”
— Calvary Chapel, an evangelical church in Universal City, Texas. It reopened in early May only to close anew in late June after dozens of staff and churchgoers tested positive, including Pastor Ron Arbaugh and his wife. Arbaugh says he regrets telling worshippers last month they could resume the tradition of hugging each other during an interlude of mid-service socializing.
— Holy Family Catholic Church in Las Vegas. The diocese announced Thursday that the church would be closed indefinitely after a priest who celebrated Mass this week tested positive.
— First Baptist Church of Tillmans Corner in Mobile, Alabama. It resumed in-person services May 17 after the governor gave a statewide green light, but recently canceled them at least through July 31 after more than 20 of the congregation’s 1,500 members tested positive. Pastor Derek Allen wrote a blog post describing the outbreak as a “harrowing and demoralizing journey,” and offering advice to other pastors: “Assume every sniffle is COVID-19, and act quickly. We’ve learned that the tests take too long, and false positives are possible along with false negatives.”
Another Baptist church, First Baptist Dallas, was in the spotlight June 28 when it hosted Vice President Mike Pence at its annual Freedom Sunday celebrations. Most of the 2,400 attendees wore face masks, but some criticism surfaced after the choir sang without masks.
Jeffress, the church’s pastor and a prominent evangelical conservative with close ties to President Donald Trump, said the choir and orchestra had been tested for COVID-19 beforehand. The church said a few who tested positive did not take part in the event.
Jeffress bristled at the idea that choirs should be temporarily banned.
“Choirs will always be a part of worship for us,” he said. “We think it’s possible to still have them but do it in a safe way.”
A few days after the Freedom Sunday event, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order requiring people wear face masks in most public settings — with several exceptions, including participants in religious services.
Some churches, through their physical attributes and the decisions of their leaders, have been able to minimize risks as worship resumes.
In Incline Village, Nevada, along the north shore of Lake Tahoe, St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church took advantage of a unique feature to relaunch scaled-back, in-person services this month: its outdoor mountain amphitheater chapel shaded by pine trees.
Church officials took precautionary measures such as moving the log-bench pews farther apart, capping attendance at 50 and requiring worshippers have their temperature taken, employ hand sanitizer and wear masks. There was no Eucharist or passing of the peace, and the usual post-service coffee hour was held by video conference.
“Good morning, children of God,” the Rev. Sarah Dunn, the church’s rector, said from behind a plexiglass screen, welcoming parishioners back to the socially distanced service July 5 after 16 Sundays apart. She acknowledged feeling “mixed emotions”: apprehension as the virus remains a threat, but joy at being able to gather in the sacred space.