Johnson County health department tests 250 essential workers for COVID-19

More positive COVID-19 cases were reported in the first 10 days of July than in the entire month of June in Johnson County, according to JCDHE Director Sanmi Areola. File photo of a mobile testing site in Johnson County.

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Essential workers, such as first responders, hospice workers, grocery store employees and daycare staff, were the focus of COVID-19 testing administered by the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment (JCDHE) last week.

Friday’s round of testing, which took place in the parking lot at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School, was the first geared toward essential workers only.

Sanmi Areola, director of the county health department, said the county will conduct more testing of essential workers as supplies become available.

Sanmi Areola, director of the county health department, said they had supplies to conduct 250 tests and that they plan to offer another round of testing for essential workers when supplies are replenished.

“We’re not capturing all the groups today, but we’re working to,” he said. “Just making sure that we sample a broad category that represents our people out there, so that we can get a good picture of the spread of the virus in our community.”

Essential workers also included custodial staff, drivers working at essential jobs, and people who provide in-home services to persons with disabilities.

The department contacted local agencies that have essential workers on staff to compile the invitation-only list of 250 participants, including some without symptoms, Areola said. From those agencies, more than 800 workers said they were willing to be tested.

“Four out of five people that are infected are infected by asymptomatic people, so it is possible to not show symptoms but carry this disease,” he said. “And we’re finding out they are spreading the infection more than others.”

The county will receive results for the COVID-19 testing in the coming days.

Johnson County has received about 73,000 responses to its survey, which sought to gauge how many people have symptoms, Areola said. More than 5% of participants claimed to have symptoms.

“If those numbers keep trending very well, which is what we’re seeing, (then) the approach is working,” he said. “Right now, we like the numbers that we’re seeing, but of course we need more data points to confirm that what we’re seeing is actually true.”

Areola said data from the new testing will be “helpful” in determining if Johnson County should extend its stay-at-home order to match Gov. Laura Kelly’s statewide order, which she extended to May 3.

Kansas acquires additional testing for food plants in southwest Kansas

State leaders in recent weeks said Kansas has been unable to obtain supplies needed to test and treat coronavirus patients.

On Friday afternoon, Rep. Sharice Davids of the Third Congressional District shared her concerns and called on the president to “fully invoke the Defense Production Act,” which would direct the private sector to quickly produce supplies for the COVID-19 response.

“Kansas still doesn’t have the supplies we need to tackle this public health crisis,” Davids said in a statement. “It’s unacceptable that we rank 50th among other states in per capita testing. And it’s unacceptable that our calls to FEMA for more supplies aren’t being met.”

In a statement on Sunday, the governor announced that Kansas has received additional supplies and personal protective equipment to expand COVID-19 testing in some counties in the southwestern corner of the state

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will use the additional supplies to test and contain recent clusters of positive COVID-19 cases in food and meat processing plants in Finney, Ford, Lyon and Seward counties.

Kelly said this new collaborative effort between local, state and federal partners will address clusters “in a strategic response to protect the nation’s food supply and the health of our essential food workers.” The plants account for 25 to 30% of the country’s beef processing, according to the governor’s office.

“Agriculture is a facet of our state’s most critical infrastructure – Kansas doesn’t just feed the state, we feed the world,” Kelly said. “This is particularly true of our frontline workers in meatpacking plants across the state who process a significant portion of the nation’s supply.”

The facilities have modified several production and shipping systems and have taken other measures including temperature and health screenings, enhanced sanitation and social distancing, according to the governor’s office.