COVID-19 Update: Johnson County officials warn against renewed surge as numbers plateau

Johnson County COVID-19 surge

A countywide mask order remains in place in Johnson County through April 30. County health officials continue to urge people to wear masks in public and keep socially distant from others as some key COVID-19 metrics — including deaths, hospitalizations and percent positivity — are staying flat are ticking back up. File photo.

Note: The Shawnee Mission Post is making much of its local coverage of the coronavirus pandemic accessible to non-subscribers. (If you value having a news source covering the situation in our community, we hope you’ll consider subscribing here).

With some of Johnson County’s key COVID-19 metrics beginning to plateau and others starting to tick up again, county health director Sanmi Areola, Ph.D., is encouraging people to continue to take disease mitigation measures — like masking and physical distancing — seriously.

“We have to do this better. We cannot afford to lose the gains that we have made,” Areola said. “We cannot afford to have the virus start spreading again.”

That comes as many states — though not Kansas, currently — struggle with a renewed surge in case numbers and federal health officials warn against a cresting fourth wave nationwide.

Local health officials are worried that plateaus in some key COVID-19 metrics in Johnson County, including deaths, hospitalizations and percent positivity, could signal the beginning of another rise in cases here caused by spring break activities and travel.

And with major religious holidays like Easter, Ramadan and Passover coming up or having already commenced, there is concern that family gatherings and social get-togethers could contribute to more increased spread.

Keeping case counts and positivity rates low, Areola says, is also critical to allowing schools to continue providing in-person learning and to permitting visitors at long-term care facilities.

Last week, the Board of County Commissioners voted to issue a new countywide public health order through April 30 that requires physical distancing in public and also includes a mask mandate.

The new order loosens some restrictions on local businesses, like capacity limits and curfews, but Areola repeated the oft-heard message that individuals must still adhere to rules currently in place in order to tamp down spread.

He still urges people to wear their masks, stay away from large gatherings, try to limit their interactions to people within their household and spend time outdoors when possible.

“We have to be careful,” Areola said.

Here’s a look at some key trends in Johnson County:

Date from the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment’s COVID-19 dashboard.

The positivity rate increased a little bit, going from 2.8% last week to 3.1% this week.

The incidence rate is the one major COVID-19 metric that declined over the last seven days, dropping from 78 to 73 cases per 100,000.

These trends fit in with trends across the state of Kansas, Dr. Lee Norman, the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said.

Unlike some other states, Kansas isn’t seeing dramatic increases in cases, but the stasis of certain metrics could signal what’s to come.

“The number of [hospitalizations] is flattening out and in a bad way — we don’t want it to reverse,” Norman said.

Vaccine distribution update

With Phase 5 of Kansas’ vaccine rollout plan underway, anyone 16 and older who lives in or works in Johnson County can get vaccinated.

But Areola warns that vaccine supply still remains well short of demand and jostling for appointments at county clinics or those operated by local hospitals or pharmacies, may lead to frustration.

That situation hopefully will improve as Johnson County gets more vaccines each week and more vaccine locations open throughout the county, including some select private health care providers who have registered with the state to administer Moderna vaccines.

Johnson County’s vaccination rate

It’s not clear exactly how many Johnson County residents have received vaccines because there is some lag in data reporting.

There is also no way to know if someone received a dose in another state.

Currently, the county says more than 146,000 Johnson County residents have received at least their first dose, a vaccination rate of about 25%. Nearly 77,000 residents have received two doses.

Areola has said he feels good about the progress the county is making. That is especially true among people 65 and older — at least 75% of that population has received a vaccine.