COVID-19 Update: Educators finish first-dose vaccinations, as Johnson County records no new deaths from disease

As of Tuesday, Johnson County educators and childcare workers who indicated interest in receiving the vaccine have received at least their first dose, according to county health officials. Above, a teacher in Des Moines, Iowa, receiving a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Photo credit Phil Roeder. Used under a Creative Commons license.

As of Tuesday, every educator and childcare worker who works in Johnson County who indicated their interest in getting the COVID-19 vaccine has received at least their first dose, according to county health officials.

The accomplishment comes nearly a full month ahead of the timeline local authorities originally anticipated.

County director of epidemiology Elizabeth Holzschuh said that’s due in large part to Kansas’ decision to send excess doses to each county earmarked specifically for educators and K-12 school staff.

In turn, that allowed the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment to redirect its general supply of vaccine doses to other prioritized groups.

For the rest of this week, JCDHE says it will focus its vaccine clinics on people 65 and older.

At the same time, the county experienced another encouraging milestone in its fight against the pandemic this past week. For the first time in months, the county recorded no new deaths from COVID-19.

It’s the first week since the the Shawnee Mission Post began issuing weekly COVID-19 updates in September that we’ve noted that fact.

Preparing to expand Phase 2 even more

As progress on the senior population continues, JCDHE is also looking to open vaccine opportunities for other groups prioritized in Phase 2, including some people who are part of Tiers 2 and 3 of Johnson County’s vaccine rollout.

As soon as next week, essential employees — including grocery store workers and people working in critical infrastructure industries — could start receiving vaccines.

More information about booking an appointment for people in these groups is expected later this week.

Additionally, JCDHE has started vaccinating the homeless population and other hard-to-reach groups, like those who are homebound or in need of transportation.

Some preparations are underway to vaccinate people who live or work in congregate settings, including prisons and some people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

“Our vaccination plans focus on equity and fairness,” said county health director Sanmi Areola, Ph.D., in a press release last week. “It is imperative that all adults have access to the COVID-19 vaccine, no matter their situation.”

Areola predicts that the remainder of Phase 2 will progress more rapidly than previous stages of vaccine distribution because the remaining groups in Phase 2 are smaller in size than the 65+ group, which is estimated to number nearly 100,000 individuals.

“In the next couple of weeks with the efforts that we put in, I feel pretty good that we will really chip away at a lot of these other parts of Phase 2,” Areola said. “I like where we are in terms of moving through Phase 2.”

Retail pharmacies opening appointments to essential workers

Up until now, the few number of vaccine appointments available through retail pharmacies in Johnson County have been reserved for residents 65 and older, but the Kansas Department of Health and Environment will start allowing those appointments to be opened up for other groups, including essential workers like grocery store employees and restaurant workers.

But supply of vaccines at pharmacies, which are received through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program directly and not distributed through the county, are likely to remain very limited.

Dr. Lee Norman, Kansas’ health secretary, said supply remains constrained, though he said the state is happy with the progress it is making on vaccinating Kansas’ senior population.

“I would vaccinate everybody if we could,” Norman said. “None of us have as much vaccine as we would like to have, of course.”

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

Downward trends continue

In Johnson County and across the Kansas City metro, the decline in new cases continued last week, but the movements downward was not nearly as dramatic as the week before.

Johnson County’s positivity rate fell from about 3.7% last week to 3.2% this week — the lowest it’s been in months.

As of Wednesday, March 10, data from JCDHE puts new cases per 100,000 residents at 89. That’s 47 fewer than the week before.

Most notably, for the first time in months, Johnson County recorded no new deaths from COVID-19 this past week.

These numbers remain a good sign, Areola said.

While these low numbers could be reversed by loosened adherence disease mitigation behavior or reduced compliance with the current state-wide mask mandate, he’s been cautiously optimistic.

Johnson County’s current local health order is in effect through March 31.

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