COVID-19 Update: ‘True decline’ in COVID transmission, but bad weather hampers vaccine

For the last seven months Johnson County health officials have repeatedly said they’d like to see the COVID-19 percent positivity rate be at or below 5%.

Now, for the first time since June 29, the county has reached that goal.

‘True decline’ in COVID transmission

Sanmi Areola, Ph.D., director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, credited better disease mitigation behavior — including masking, physical distancing and cohorting in schools — with the overall decline in new case statistics.

“Our numbers are looking a lot better — there’s no question our residents have done so well,” Areola said. “What a great job our residents have done.”

As of Wednesday, data from JCDHE has the new cases per 100,000 residents metric at 190, a decline of almost 30% from the week before.

Another bright spot, said JCDHE epidemiology director Elizabeth Holzschuh, is the overall decline in the rate of hospitalizations, which has dropped off significantly since January.

Decreases in those categories led her to declare Wednesday that it appears like a “true decline in COVID transmission in our community,” and not one propped up by less overall testing.

Bad weather hampers vaccination efforts

Despite a weather-related cancelation to the county’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Tuesday, county health officials other clinics this week should not be affected by the severe winter weather.

That being said, Areola did say people who do not feel safe traveling to vaccination clinics in the bitterly cold temperatures should feel free to reschedule their appointments.

Residents who do cancel or reschedule appointments this week have the opportunity to make another appointment in the near future, Areola said. There are buttons to cancel or reschedule appointments off to the right side in the confirmation emails residents received after scheduling their appointment with JCDHE.

Bad weather across the central U.S. this week may also delay the delivery of doses meant to be administered next week, Dr. Lee Norman, the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

On the other hand, Kansas could soon see more doses overall arriving as soon as next week as more supplies enter the federal government’s distribution pipeline. That means as many as twice the current number of doses received each week could be headed for Johnson County soon.

That’s potentially good news for Johnson County, where the rate of vaccination is estimated to be nearing 10%, though the number of doses remains far short of demand.

The county has been receiving anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 first doses per week over the last month, nearly all of which are being administered within a week of arriving, county health officials say.

Still, the county estimates up to 150,000 Johnson County residents are eligible in Phase 2 of the state’s vaccine rollout.

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

The new cases by week metric is down significantly again, with 190 new cases being reported per 100,000 residents. There were 15 new deaths and 60 hospitalizations over last week. Data via Johnson County Department of Health and Environment dashboard.

‘There could be bumpy roads ahead’

The sustained downward trend of new infections doesn’t mean Johnson County is out of the woods yet, health officials warn.

Both Holzschuh and Areola cautioned residents against becoming lackadaisical about following current restrictions, like masking and social distancing guidelines.

“We do know that there could be bumpy roads ahead,” Areola said during a county update on Tuesday. “Even as we vaccinate, we know we have a long way to go, and we need to keep doing those things (that slow spread).”

A top concern remains the spread of the more transmissible strain of COVID-19, cases of which have been confirmed in Kansas, Holzshuh said.

Earlier this week, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment documented another case of the variant first tracked in the UK, this time in Sedgwick County around Wichita. This latest confirmed case, unlike the first one counted in Ellis County, appears to be travel-related, Norman said.

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