COVID-19 Update: Johnson County cases are down but so is testing — that could be an issue

Johnson County COVID-19 testing

COVID-19 testing in Johnson County last summer, including at this drive-thru clinic put on by the county health department, was at its height. But now county health officials say testing rates have dropped as vaccines have become more prevalent. That could make it more difficult to gauge accurately how widespread the disease remains in the county. File photo.

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Though case numbers and other COVID-19 metrics have not been skyrocketing in recent weeks, local health officials are still warning Johnson County residents to remain vigilant about preventing spread.

Not only does that mean continuing to wear masks in public and keep physical distancing but also getting tested for COVID-19 when necessary.

Sanmi Areola, Ph.D., director of the county health department, and Dr. Joseph LeMaster, local health officer, have both warned that declines in community testing rates could be a problem and make it more difficult to contain COVID-19 transmission going forward.

“We are very, very cautious in interpreting the data, especially as a measure of community spread because our testing numbers are low,” Areola said. “We need to test to know what’s going on.”

LeMaster said that means getting tested when you’ve been exposed, even if you don’t have symptoms.

As more people reach full immunity after receiving the vaccine, they may not show the usual signs of an infection, but vaccines don’t necessarily keep you from getting COVID-19 or stop you from spreading it to others.

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

The positivity rate was static from last week to this week, remaining at 3.1%.

On the other hand, the incidence rate — the number of cases per 100,000 residents — went up a little this week, going from 73 to 74 cases.

County director of epidemiology Elizabeth Holzschuh said she isn’t anticipating a large surge in cases caused by spring religious holidays celebrated over the past week.

For one thing, she says the rate of transmission remains low, which lowers the threat of spread overall. Also, the weather was nice over the weekend, which enabled more outdoor gatherings, which are safer than indoor activities.

Last week, however, Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, warned that plateauing metrics statewide could be a signal of a surge on the horizon or a warning sign of a fourth wave.

Some states — but not Kansas currently — are starting to see upticks in cases already.

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

Vaccine distribution update

Holzschuh said the end of Johnson County’s vaccination efforts could be in sight.

Based on the current volume of people waiting in line — that is, those residents who have already filled out the county’s vaccine interest form — she expects first doses to be wrapped up within a matter of weeks for everyone who wants one.

“It could be a couple of weeks,” Holzschuh said. “Probably two to four weeks.”

If more people fill out the survey, that timeline could change, but that means there are more opportunities for community members to access appointments.

To fill out the vaccine interest form, click here.

This week, some vaccine clinics run through the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment will offer longer hours, including weekend appointment options.

That should enable more people to receive the vaccine and also opens opportunities for people who cannot take time off of work to get their doses, Areola says.

Areola expects just shy of 11,000 people to receive a vaccine from JCDHE clinics this week. And even more people will continue to get vaccinated at local pharmacies and through health systems administering doses.

For information about the ways you can get find a vaccine in Johnson County, click here.

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