Weekly COVID-19 update: White House report puts JoCo in ‘red zone,’ urges more restrictions

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A White House report released Monday designated Johnson County, along with 83 other Kansas counties as being in the COVID-19 “red zone” and said that current mitigation efforts were inadequate and must be increased.

“There is exponential and unyielding spread across the state,” the report said.

JoCo incidence rate more than 2.5 times national average

The average national incidence rate is 294 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents. In Johnson County that metric sits at 775 cases per 100,000 residents, or more than 2.5 times that of the national average.

The task force report urges Johnson County and other Kansas counties seeing such levels of community spread to enact more aggressive restrictions to combat the pandemic. It also said counties should continue to enforce mask requirements, consider eliminating extracurricular school activities, limit bar hours and reduce indoor restaurant capacity to less than 25%.

On Monday, the county implemented a new public health directive that ordered bars and restaurants to close at midnight and also limited mass gatherings to 50 people or 50% of a venue’s capacity, but other Kansas City area jurisdictions — including Wyandotte County and the city of Kansas City, Mo. — enacted more stringent measures in recent days.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, issues weekly reports on each state, and the most recent Kansas report (available here via the Kansas Reflector) was particularly grim. Nationwide, Kansas now has the 5th highest rate of COVID-19 positivity and the 9th highest rate of new cases per 100,000 residents.

It lists Sedgwick, Johnson and Shawnee counties — which are among the most populated counties in the state — as having the highest number of new cases in the last three weeks.

The White House report shows Wichita, Kansas City and Topeka, and the communities’ respective counties, as the top-ranking Kansas areas for increased COVID-19 cases.

‘So many exceptions’ — Health leader questions effectiveness of JoCo order

In a University of Kansas Health System media update report Monday Steven Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, said Kansas hospitals are feeling the increase in cases and patients. Stites, along with other area physicians on the program, agreed that enforcing more stringent restrictions, similar to the shelter-in-place orders experienced in March, may be necessary to ensure hospitals can keep up with the influx in demand.

“We know we can bend the curve without having to do draconian things but if we don’t and we are overwhelmed and can’t take care of people I don’t know, that’s going to be a tough position not to take stronger restrictions,” Stites said.

Stites specifically noted concerns with the leniency of Johnson County’s new public health regulations, which went into effect Monday.

“There’s so many exceptions to it I’m not sure how they could really get that done,” Stites said. “It’s going to require personal responsibility to do it. Because the next step will be a shut down.”

Johnson County percent positive at 16.5%

The percent positive rate in Johnson County has continued to climb and is now at 16.5%, up from 14.5% last week and 10.4% two weeks ago. New cases by week climbed 40% over the previous week, with more than 2,500 new cases the week of November 8.

COVID-19 cases continue to soar in Johnson County with 2,311 new positives, 45 new hospitalizations and 14 new deaths since last week. Data via Johnson County’s data dashboard.

In his regular briefing to the Board of County Commissioners, Johnson County Department of Health and Environment Director Sanmi Areola said the county was averaging 366 new infections per day, which is more than twice the peak number the county had for three months.

The uptick in cases has also translated to increased hospitalizations, which are up 7% from last week.

Areola said more hospitals are now at capacity and are “in the position of having to delay elective surgeries and rationing care.”

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