Weekly COVID-19 Update: Case trend ‘better than expected’ — but officials urge against large holiday gatherings

Johnson County Department of Health and Environment workers Monday received doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Above, JoCo health director Sanmi Areola receives the vaccine. Image via JCDHE Twitter account.

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While getting vaccinated for the novel coronavirus is on the horizon for many in Johnson County, now is not the time to relax social distancing or mask-wearing efforts, health officials cautioned.

“This is not the time to go to Grandma’s house for Christmas,” said Dr. Joseph LeMaster, Johnson County Local Health Officer.

Health officials say limiting your gathering size is paramount as we head into the holiday weekend, while acknowledging that residents appeared to comply with mitigation efforts during Thanksgiving.

At the KU Health System media briefing Tuesday Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at the KU Health System, said infections and hospitalizations are continuing to drop and that the region is doing “better than we expected.”

“I think people are trying to do the right thing,” Hawkinson said. “We need to stay vigilant because there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

LeMaster agreed that trend was true in Johnson County.

“You have done what we asked you to do to a large degree at Thanksgiving,” LeMaster said in a JCDHE video update. “We have not seen the kind of increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths that we were worried about after Thanksgiving.”

Here’s a look at the overall trends:

New cases by week are down more than 10 percent from last week and Johnson County’s percentage positives continued its downward trend. Data via Johnson County’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Vaccine Update

According to the county health department, Pfizer’s vaccine has been distributed across Kansas with first-priority vaccinations going to healthcare workers and nursing home residents and staff.

JCDHE has also received Moderna’s vaccine, and the first doses were given Monday to public health workers. Additional vaccines will be given to county EMS staff, which by the state’s definition includes those who transport patients and not firefighters or first responders.

Pharmacy giants CVS and Walgreens will also be receiving doses of the vaccines for the purpose of distributing them to nursing home residents and employees.

Charlie Rice-Minoso, CVS spokesperson for the Midwest region, said CVS Health will start administering vaccines at 360 long-term care facilities throughout Kansas starting December 28.

New strain of COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a new strain of COVID-19 that contains mutations has been found in the United Kingdom and that this strain may be more contagious than the existing version.

The strain does not appear to cause more severe symptoms, illnesses or carry an increased risk of death, the CDC reported.

Hawkinson addressed these reports during a media update this week, and noted the new strain of COVID-19 may already be in the United States. He also said that there is no indication the approved vaccines won’t be just as effective on the mutated viruses.

Tips from JCDHE on celebrating safely

  • Celebrate at home with those in your household.
  • Host virtual parties.
  • If you do gather, keep it small and stay local. Wear masks, wash hands frequently and maintain social distance. Stay outside if possible and ensure ventilation if indoors.
  • Do not attend large gatherings, especially indoors.
  • Do not attend to host potlucks, buffets or other shared food serving.

Click here to schedule a free COVID-19 test with the county health department.

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JCDHE and State announcements