COVID-19 Update: New Johnson County cases tick up again, thousands of vaccine slots open

With more people getting vaccinated, Johnson County has adjusted its appointment system, now allowing people to sign up directly for open slots. Still, with new cases ticking up again, local officials warn that safety measures like masking in public and social distancing could linger into the fall. File photo.

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Johnson County residents still needing a COVID-19 vaccine now have a new system to sign up for appointments.

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment will no longer rely on vaccine interest survey forms to make appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Under the new system, anyone can request an open vaccine appointment without waiting on the go-ahead from county health officials or keeping constant tabs on their email accounts, Sanmi Areola, Ph.D., director of the county health department, said.

That does not mean you can simply show up at a clinic location.

Appointments will still be required in advance, but county health officials hope the change will make the process of getting vaccinated quicker.

“We still have a long way to go to get to where we need to be to get to the population immunity level that we want to,” Areola said. “We all have to get vaccinated to get to where we need to be.”

To make an appointment for a vaccine under the new open sign-up system, click here. The form has English and Spanish options.

For information about receiving a vaccine from a community partner, like a local health system, click here. 

The county and some local health systems currently have thousands of appointments open for next week, Areola said.

Here’s a look at some COVID-19 trends in Johnson County:

The positivity rate was mostly static from last week to this, going up slightly from 3.1% to 3.2%.

The incidence rate — the number of cases per 100,000 residents — also went up this week, going from 74 to 80 cases.

The total number of deaths in Johnson County fell by one to 641. Adjustments like that have happened before.

County health officials say some death records are removed from the county’s rolls once more is learned about each individual case. In prior weeks, some deaths have been moved to other jurisdictions because they turned out to be linked to zip codes outside Johnson County.

While people wait for vaccines and even after they are fully immunized, they must continue to wear a mask and practice physical distancing, local health officer Dr. Joseph LeMaster said.

LeMaster doesn’t expect another health order to be instituted after the current one expires at the end of April unless Johnson County sees “a very big uptick in case numbers,” but he still suggests that people expect to adhere to such safety guidelines into the fall.

“Just because we’re not issuing orders, however, doesn’t mean that we will not continue to recommend the use of face masks and social distancing,” LeMaster said.

Incomplete data caveat

Likewise, county health officials warn that current COVID-19 data for Johnson County may not provide the full picture of the disease’s lingering spread.

Last week, Areola said testing for COVID-19 has decreased significantly in Johnson County.

“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.”

The decline in overall testing is a trend across the state of Kansas and the U.S., Dr. Lee Norman, the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said.

Testing, for the most part, is still free and accessible across the state.

“We think there’s still a need for widespread testing,” Norman said.

Recent COVID-19 coverage: