‘Very dangerous territory’ — JoCo hits single-day high in new COVID-19 cases with 287

Johnson County mask order

Mask orders have been in place in Johnson County since the summer, requiring patrons to wear masks inside in most situations. File photo.

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More than seven months into local spread of the novel coronavirus, Johnson County health officials reported Friday that the county set a new single-day record for new cases with 287.

That figure capped off a week that saw more than 1,020 new cases added to Johnson County’s toll, prompting an unusually urgent statement from the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment late Friday afternoon.

“We are getting into very dangerous territory. Infections are spiking at a very rapid rate,” said county health director Sanmi Areola, Ph.D, in the statement. “This is putting our residents at risk.”

The news comes as public schools in the county continue to bring more students back for in-person learning and families gear up for the typically busy winter holiday season.

In the county health department’s statement, Areola urged Johnson Countians to think twice about gathering for Halloween festivities this weekend.

“It’s understandable that people are tired of following guidelines, and want holiday celebrations to continue as normal, however, these are not normal times,” he said. “This is not the time for house parties, or even small gatherings with those that do not live with you. Our concern, as always, is for the health and safety of our entire community — and that’s what we want our residents to consider with their own actions.”

‘Misinformation’ blamed for worsening local spread

Areola also said “misinformation” being spread about the coronavirus pandemic has made controlling it in Johnson County more challenging.

“[R]hetoric around herd immunity and deliberate infections, masks don’t work, and other inaccurate information, is hurting our efforts to contain the spread of this virus,” he said.

He reiterated oft-repeated guidance to wear masks, stay socially distant and frequently wash hands, as ways to combat transmission of the disease.

Johnson County’s order that masks must be worn while in public remains in effect until at least Nov. 15, after county commissioners allowed Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s statewide mandate to extend locally for another month at last week’s meeting.

Winter sports will continue

The sharply rising case numbers come as public school districts in Johnson County mull winter sports and extracurricular activities.

Earlier this week, the county health department recommended schools cancel winter sports if mitigation efforts like masking and social distancing are not possible. The county pointed out that the risk of COVID-19 transmission during indoor sports, like wrestling and basketball, is “significantly higher” than with outdoor activities that have been played this fall.

Still, on Friday, Shawnee Mission Schools announced the district would move forward with winter sports for now.

“We have an abundance of safety protocols built into our in-class instructional models, and have confidence that through rigorous adherence to these protocols, we are able to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 in schools,” Superintendent Mike Fulton said in a statement emailed to staff and families. “Our school buildings and grounds continue to remain closed to rental by outside organizations, in order to support necessary safety protocols.”

County health officials have said they’ve recorded little, if any, transmission of the disease in school buildings and classrooms themselves. But a county epidemiologist told the SMSD board of education earlier this month that the most frequent source of transmission among Johnson County students was extracurricular activities and sports.

Earlier this week, SMSD unveiled a COVID-19 dashboard that tracked the virus’ impact on schools. As of Friday, that dashboard showed 137 “active isolations” of students and staff.