COVID-19 Update: Johnson County finds more variant cases as community spread increases

Johnson County community spread

Vaccine distribution in Johnson County has also slowed in recent weeks, even as new cases continue a gradual upward creep. Last week, the county's percent positivity reached 3.9%, its highest level in weeks. The incidence rate of new cases also went up nearly 10% week over week. File photo.

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Some key COVID-19 metrics in Johnson County continued their steady upward creep this week, as county health officials said they are also spotting more cases of the disease’s variants popping up locally.

So far, only about 30 cases of COVID-19 variants have been documented in Johnson County, but county health officials warn those numbers may not show the full picture, given logistical hurdles in screening for such cases.

The majority of variant cases in Johnson County are the B117 variant — also called the UK variant — which is considered to be the dominant strain in the U.S. currently.

There are also a handful of cases of the P1 variant, which was first documented in Brazil. Additionally, there have been a few cases of the B1429 — or California — variant.

None of the recorded local cases appear to be of the extremely contagious variant being partly blamed for India’s massive surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths over the past few weeks. (There have been isolated confirmed cases of that variant in other parts of the U.S.)

Sanmi Areola, Ph.D., director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, said the county does not have the independent ability to screen samples for variants.

Instead, JCDHE flags cases that are behaving strangely, like positives documented less than six months after a person previously tested positive, breakthrough infections following the completion of a vaccine regimen or outbreaks that spread more rapidly, county director of epidemiology Elizabeth Holzschuh said.

Samples are collected from those individuals and sent to state laboratories that complete a full genomic sequence of the virus.

“We are continuing to watch this situation,” Holzschuh said. “At this point, there are no variants of high consequence that have been identified, but we’re happy that this is in place because that way we have a better view of what’s happening in our community.”

Here’s a look at some local COVID-19 metrics:

The positivity rate in Johnson County continued its recent upward creep, rising this week to 3.9%.

This is one of the highest positivity rates Johnson County has recorded since late February but is still well below rates seen last fall when positivity neared 15% at times.

The incidence rate — the number of cases per 100,000 residents — jumped to 91, up from 83 last week.

The level of transmission in the community is considered to be “substantial” by the CDC. 

The total number of deaths in Johnson County attributed to COVID-19 now stands at 650. There have been a total 45,483 COVID-19 cases reported in the county.

Vaccine opportunities this week

JCDHE has extended its walk-in clinic hours for the remainder of the month of May at its Lenexa clinic to:

  • 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays

  • 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays

  • 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 15, and Saturday, May 22

Anyone needing a vaccination can simply walk in to the facility at 15500 W. 108th Street in Lenexa during those times and get a shot.

General vaccine appointments are still available as well and can be scheduled here. 

Vaccination rates

Last week, JCDHE announced it had administered more than 100,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but more county residents have received doses elsewhere.

Between county-run clinics and those operated by local hospitals and pharmacies, JCDHE says more than 344,000 doses overall have been administered.

County data shows that just over 30% of the county’s eligible population is fully immunized at this point

This data, shared with JCDHE through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, is incomplete, Holzschuh said, since it lacks numbers from vaccines given across state lines.

That means Johnson County residents who received their vaccine outside of Kansas aren’t included in JCDHE’s count.

Data from the CDC, which is more complete, shows that about 48% of Johnson County’s total eligible population has received at least one shot. That remains short of the threshold of between 70% and 80% that county health leaders have said is needed to achieve herd immunity.

“While we have vaccinated quite a high percentage of our population, we’re not quite where we need to be. We need to get more vaccines into the arms of more people,” Areola said.

Recent COVID-19 coverage: