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This week, Johnson County began giving COVID-19 vaccines simultaneously to individuals eligible in Phases 2, 3 and 4 of Kansas’ statewide vaccine rollout plan.
County health officials say Johnson County’s new mass vaccine site at an empty Lenexa warehouse, which began operations Tuesday, will help them ramp up the pace of vaccinations in coming days.
The county’s new mass vaccine clinic, unlike the one still in operation at Okun Fieldhouse in Shawnee, won’t require volunteers to set up and break down the equipment each evening. The warehouse space has been sub-leased for the sole purpose of hosting these clinics, county health director Sanmi Areola, Ph.D., said.
On its first day Tuesday, workers at the Lenexa clinic gave about 570 vaccines. More are expected to be added each day, bringing the daily output there to 1,400 by the end of the week, according to county health officials.
“One of the key reasons that we wanted the fixed location was not just about being able to have a place where we don’t have to assemble and disassemble every day. It’s also to have flexibility,” Areola says.
Starting next week, the total number of doses given each day is supposed to increase even more thanks to plans to offer evening and possibly weekend clinics.
Areola said those additional hours of operation will help the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment provide more equitable vaccination opportunities to people who are eligible but who can’t take time off during the workday for an appointment or have other daytime conflicts.
At least for this week, Areola said, clinics at Okun Fieldhouse will continue to run simultaneously with the one in Lenexa.
Here’s a look at the overall trends in Johnson County:
Since last week, the positivity rate has more or less stayed the same at about 2.8%, that metric’s lowest level since last summer.
The incidence rate — which measures how many new cases of COVID-19 there are per 100,000 residents — has fluctuated over the last seven days, moving between 71 and 78 cases.
As of Tuesday evening, the current incidence rate stood at 78, up slightly from the previous week.
‘It’s too soon to really let our guard down’
Across the state of Kansas, key COVID-19 metrics continued to decline or remain level, but that’s not the case across the U.S. as a whole.
CNBC reported this week that at least 27 states have seen increases in new COVID-19 cases in recent days, including a particularly notable jump in Michigan, which is reporting about 3,000 new cases per day, a 50% spike from a week ago.
Even in Kansas, there is still some concern about the trajectory changing because of COVID-19 variants and the threat of people relaxing their behavior as vaccines become more widespread.
Dr. Lee Norman, the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said about 26% of Kansans have received a vaccine, but that isn’t enough for things to go back to the way they were before the pandemic.
“It’s too soon to let our guard down,” Norman said this week.
In Johnson County, Areola said vaccination rates improve every day but agreed that it is not time to lift restrictions that have been in place for months.
“We’ve been very clear that we got to where we are, not because of the vaccine,” Areola said “We changed the trajectory for the better because you are wearing masks, because you are physically distancing.”
JCDHE reported Wednesday that nearly 180,000 Johnson County residents had received at least their first dose, a vaccination rate of nearly 30%.
The county commission on Thursday is expected to discuss whether to extend the current countywide pandemic health order which expires on March 31.
Areola did say he foresees a time in a few months when local restrictions could be loosened safely, but that shouldn’t be done all at once.
“Rollbacks have to be intentional. It is not a switch on or off — it has to be looked at as a dimmer and we’ll turn it back as data dictates and science dictates,” Areola said. “We have worked so hard to get to where we are, and we don’t want to lose the gains that we have made.”