COVID-19 Update: Vaccines remain limited in Johnson County, but new cases keep falling

COVID-19 infections are down in Johnson County. The new cases by week metric decreased by 30% over last week and percent positivity is at 7.3%. Above, Johnson County health director Sanmi Areola shows Gov. Laura Kelly a local vaccination clinic. Photo via JCDHE Facebook.

This week in Johnson County, vaccination efforts are still focused on educators, first responders and those 80-years and older. People who are also due to receive second doses — mostly health care workers covered in Phase 1 — are also being prioritized.

Johnson County’s director of epidemiology Elizabeth Holzschuh said several thousand people have registered their intent to receive the vaccine through the county’s online Phase 2 survey, but supply remains low.

That means every Johnson County resident who wants a vaccine right now simply can’t get one currently.

If you completed the survey already, but haven’t been notified yet, do not resubmit the survey or call the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, Sanmi Areola, Ph.D., the director of the health department said.

Multiple entries per individual and extra calls can slow the process, he warned.

If you need help registering intent to receive the vaccine or setting up an appointment once you’ve been notified a dose is available for you, call 913-715-2819.

The county doesn’t usually find out until Wednesday or Thursday when it will receive its allotment of vaccines from the state for the next week and how many doses it will get, Holzschuh said. That makes it difficult to plan in advance.

“I know it’s really frustrating for people, for our residents to not know exactly what dates we’re going to be doing the clinics next week and not have a lot of information ahead of time, but really that’s because we are limited on when we know how many doses we’re getting and when those doses are actually showing up,” Holzschuh said.

Partnering with health systems

One thing that’s helped JCDHE distribute vaccines more quickly this week is its partnership with local health systems, like the University of Kansas Medical Center, AdventHealth, Olathe Medical Center and Children’s Mercy Hospital, Areola said.

“It’s more efficient when we are getting people vaccinated through multiple routes,” Areola said.

If JCDHE were to give vaccines alone, he said it would take years to get through the whole population. That’s why these partnerships are so vital and he hopes to expand them to other hospital systems that serve the community, he said.

The goal is to have COVID-19 vaccine distribution work like the annual influenza vaccine distribution — residents could get it from any number of places, including hospitals, primary care physicians, schools and pharmacies

‘Kansas is healing itself’

In Johnson County and across the metro area, new COVID-19 cases are trending downward. Johnson County’s positivity rate fell from 9.2% last week to about 7% on Wednesday.

JCDHE has new cases per 100,000 residents metric at 358, a steep decline from the week before.

That’s the trend across the state of Kansas, Dr. Lee Norman, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said. In fact, hospitalizations, new cases and deaths are all “dropping dramatically,” he says.

“Kansas is healing itself,” Norman said. “I think that is because of your incorporation of these anti-contagion measures into your routines.”

Looking forward

While the progress toward reduced transmission is a good sign, Dr. Dana Hawkinson, director of infection prevention at the University of Kansas Medical Center, said it’s not time to turn away from mitigation behaviors, like masking and physical distancing.

After all, it’s what got Kansas and the Kansas City metro area into the cycle of new downward trends.

With vaccines in distribution and others that appear promising coming up for emergency authorization, Hawkinson said it’s possible some sense of normalcy could return that includes lighter COVID-19 restrictions.

“I don’t know when that will be,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be anytime maybe before the end of the summer or the fall.”

Before that can happen though, some semblance of population immunity will need to be in place from vaccination efforts and there will need to be evidence that the vaccines currently in rotation can stand up to the more transmissible strains of COVID-19. Previously, Areola said that would require a vaccination rate of about 90% — a threshold Johnson County and the surrounding communities are far from reaching.

“I think that there will be a general trend toward opening things up a bit,” Norman said. “I don’t think there’s a bright line on the ground that says ‘OK, we’ve reached that spot now.’”

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