Weekly COVID-19 Update: ‘Exponential growth’ in cases across Johnson County

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COVID-19 in Johnson County has continued its troubling upward trend as the new cases per 100,000 residents shot up 69% over last week, and the percent positivity rate increased to 14.5%.

From early July to mid-October new cases by week averaged at about 715. That metric has now more than doubled with 1,820 new cases the week of November 1. This translates to about 260 new infections per day in Johnson County.

Johnson County Department of Health and Environment director of epidemiology Elizabeth Holzschuh said the strong increase is having a “tremendous impact” on the ability of health officials to track and trace individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19.

“We are very much in a period of what we call exponential growth, where the cases are doubling every period of time just because transmission is so rampant in our community,” Holzschuh said in a JoCo on the Go podcast.

In his regular update to the Board of County Commissioners JCDHE director Sanmi Areola, Ph.D., said the county’s goal is to have a positivity rate of 5% or below with less than 50 new infections per 100,000 residents — a far cry from where the county stands today.

The recent data puts schools’ gating criteria in the Red Zone, where in-person learning is cautioned against. But the change in infection rate alone may not lead to schools shifting to online-only learning. At a special called meeting Tuesday the Shawnee Mission School District said its schools may be forced to move students back to online-only learning due to a lack of available teachers or substitutes. An unprecedented number of educators have quit or retired while others are sick or in quarantine after COVID-19 exposures.

Key Trends

Johnson County’s percent positivity rate is now at the highest it has been since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Data via JCDHE COVID-19 data dashboard.

Hospital shortage concerns

On Tuesday Governor Laura Kelly said hospitalizations across Kansas spiked over the weekend causing increased strains in rural and urban areas.

“If a hospital is at capacity for bed space particularly in its intensive care unit we run the risk of Kansans not having access to medical care when they need it most,” Kelly said.

Public health officer Joseph LeMaster echoed those concerns this week and said that given current trends the county anticipates seeing a rapid increase in the number of residents needing hospitalization in the next couple of weeks, exacerbating the existing burden on healthcare facilities.

“We may not have the ability, not just to care for COVID patients, but for other medical emergencies that people have going into the holidays,” LeMaster said.

The chart above shows the breakdown of COVID-19 cases compared to in-patient hospitalizations by age group, with 76% of in-patient hospitalizations occurring in adults aged 50 or older. Chart via Johnson County’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Vaccine, treatment news

Earlier this week Pfizer Inc. reported that its COVID-19 vaccine may be 90% effective. Individuals expected to receive the vaccine first will be 65 years old or older with a BMI of 35+. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also authorized the use of a monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19 patients.

Steven Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, called the two bits of news “grand slams” that he expects to create a major difference in COVID-19 transmission and treatment.

“The good news is that real hope is here, is about two to three months away between a vaccination and monoclonal antibody therapy,” he said in the University of Kansas Health System’s Tuesday media update. “Early use authorization has been approved, we’re starting to work on distribution which means the drugs are on their way.”

Recent COVID-19 coverage:

Announcements from Johnson County:

Click here to see a calendar of Johnson County COVID-19 testing events