Weekly COVID-19 Update: Vaccinations in JoCo pick up pace, but so do new cases, hospitalizations

The Johnson County health department said it expects Phase 1 vaccinations, primarily for healthcare workers, to take 'another month or longer.' Above, Mary Ann Copeland, respiratory therapy nurse at KU Health System, receives her COVID-19 vaccination. Photo courtesy KU Health System.

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Johnson County saw a post-holiday spike in new COVID-19 cases over the past week, even as the county tried to ramp up its distribution of vaccines.

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment said it aims to vaccinate 1,000 health care workers per day this week. That would be an increase in the rate of dosing but would remain well shy of the demand the county is seeing from front-line health care workers who are in the first tier of vaccine recipients.

JCDHE said it received 2,000 vaccine doses on Monday with another 3,900 expected from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment through this week.

Before this week, about 4,000 individuals had received doses as part of Phase 1 of the county ‘as vaccine rollout plan. Still, the county says some 25,000 health care professionals have expressed interested in getting vaccinated, and there isn’t a set timeline yet for progressing to Phase 2, which will include people 65 and older, as well as high-contact essential workers.

Vaccine supply shortages have been a persistent issue in Johnson County and in Kansas as a whole, though the state has recently moved up into the “top tier” of states in terms of vaccine distribution, according to the CDC.

JCDHE is following Kansas’ vaccine rollout plan (see graphic below), and county health leaders suggest Phase 1 “will take another month or longer” despite optimistic projections from Kansas Secretary of Health Dr. Lee Norman. Phase 2 could begin as soon as the end of January.

December set new grim marks for JoCo

As vaccine distribution locally struggles to keep pace with demand, area health leaders continue to emphasize the need for residents to remain vigilant against spreading the disease. That comes as several key metrics in Johnson County creep back up following the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Over the weekend and into the start of this week, the Kansas City metro area added thousands of new cases, which can feel like “staring at the light of a train coming at us if we don’t really get this under control again,” said Dr. David Wild, vice president for performance improvement at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

On Tuesday, Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer for the KU Health System, said December saw the highest number of deaths so far during the pandemic in the Kansas City metro area. That holds true for Johnson County, too, where hospitalization and death rates reached new peaks in mid-December.

The availability of hospital beds and intensive care beds is “critically low,” Local health officer Joseph LeMaster said in a video released by JCDHE on Tuesday, which can lead to more bad outcomes.

“The higher the numbers of cases, the higher the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths will happen,” LeMaster said.

Data from JCDHE has the current cases per 100,000 residents nearing 400 — nearly eight times the goal rate of 50 cases per 100,000 residents.

Here’s a look at the overall trends in Johnson County:

After a brief reprieve COVID-19 cases have started to climb again in Johnson County. The percent positivity rate climbed from 12% to 14.7% and the new cases by week metric is up more than 20%.

The county also saw 31 new deaths last week.

This news comes on the heels of several local school districts announcing plans to bring older students back to in-person learning, including USD 232 in De Soto which plans to bring its middle and high school students back to full-time, in-person learning on Feb. 1.

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