Weekly COVID-19 Update: Testing up in JoCo ahead of Thanksgiving, but officials warn negative results don’t mean it’s safe to celebrate in groups

COVID-19 testing is up across Johnson County, but a negative test doesn't mean you can celebrate in person. "A COVID-19 test only tells you if you’re infected with the virus the moment you take the test," JCDHE tweeted. "You could still become infectious after a negative test."

The Shawnee Mission Post is making much of its local coverage of the coronavirus pandemic accessible to non-subscribers. (If you value having a news source covering the situation in our community, we hope you’ll consider subscribing here).

Preparing for Thanksgiving looks quite a bit different this year in Johnson County as residents grapple with the effects of COVID-19. In addition to stocking up on turkey and cranberry sauce, residents are flocking to get COVID-19 tests.

“The demand has been high,” said Barbara Mitchell, Johnson County Department of Health and Environment spokesperson. “JCHDE’s appointments have filled up rapidly in the last couple of weeks.”

A Johnson County Department of Health and Environment infographic explains how testing negative for COVID-19 doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t infect others with COVID-19 at Thanksgiving celebrations.

But a COVID-19 negative test doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe to attend in-person Thanksgiving celebrations with people outside your household, JCDHE said.

“A COVID-19 test only tells you if you’re infected with the virus the moment you take the test,” JCDHE tweeted. “You could still become infectious after a negative test.”

Mitchell said JCDHE added additional appointment opportunities last week to help keep up with demand, and when no testing is available JCDHE refers individuals to other testing sites in the area.

Health officials say all of the additional testing has also led to a modest decrease in an important metric: the percentage positive rate.

Increased asymptomatic testing drives down percentage positive rate

The percentage positive rate is down slightly. As of Wednesday, the county’s COVID-19 dashboard showed it at 15.1%. That’s compared to last week’s 16.5%. But this decline is not an indicator that COVID-19 cases are improving in the county, said JCDHE director of epidemiology Elizabeth Holzschuh.

In fact, cases per 100,000 residents is up to 820 this week, compared to 775 last week.

“We have had a large number of individuals in our community get tested, likely because of the Thanksgiving holiday (testing prior to seeing family),” Holzschuh wrote in an email to the Post. “The large number of those with no symptoms, who will likely test negative, will drive down the percent positive.”

Hospitalizations have increased by 8.5% in the county and there were also 31 additional COVID-19 related deaths, a 12% increase over last week. Data via Johnson County’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Health officials urge residents to celebrate safely

With hospitalizations increasing across the state, due to a mix of COVID-19 patients and regular seasonal illnesses, health officials are pleading with residents to celebrate safely.

“We understand the need to celebrate with loved ones, but we encourage people to do so safely and to look for creative ways to celebrate with family and friends while protecting one another,” said Kristi Zears, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Zears said celebrating virtually or keeping in-person celebrations limited to members of your own household poses the lowest risk for spread.

“In-person gatherings that bring together family members or friends from different households poses varying levels of risk,” Zears said.

Recent COVID-19 coverage:

Announcements from Johnson County: