New COVID-19 cases in Johnson County are creeping up again — what could be driving that

Johnson County COVID-19

Johnson County health officials say that since children younger than 12 remain ineligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19, they can still be carriers of the disease and may be unwittingly spreading it to unvaccinated adults. As summer travel and activities pick up, experts continue to urge eligible Johnson County residents to get vaccinated. File photo.

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For the first time in several weeks, new cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in Johnson County — if only slightly — driven by increasing spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, according to county health officials.

County health director Sanmi Areola, Ph.D, briefed the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners Thursday and discussed an uptick in the county’s percent positivity over the past week.

Currently, the positivity rate in Johnson County is 1.9%, which remains well below the figure’s peak seen at times throughout the last year, but Areola said the slight increase is still concerning, as the county’s vaccination rate continues to ebb.

“As you see in this region and across the country, there’s a spike in cases that is driven by the Delta variant that’s occurring in unvaccinated populations,” he said.

Areola also attributed the recent rise in cases to the inability currently to vaccinate children 12 and younger. The FDA has not approved COVID-19 vaccinations’ use for that age group.

Kids, Areola said, may be unknowingly carrying and spreading the virus — including the Delta variant — to adults who have not been vaccinated.

And because summer is here, many families are traveling for vacation and doing activities that were limited or canceled last summer, which could increase the possibility of the virus being spread.

“The CDC said several weeks ago that if you are vaccinated you can continue to do the things you’ve been doing,” Areola said. “But if you are not vaccinated that is concerning. It is concerning because people are moving around. And if you look at hospitalizations and serious illnesses they are occurring exclusively in places that are not vaccinated.”

Health officials continue to recommend the vaccine to anyone who is eligible. It remains the most effective way to guard against the virus and prevent spread of the disease, JCDHE says.

If you are not vaccinated or are choosing not to be vaccinated, JCDHE  says you should continue to wear a mask in public, practice social distancing and avoid crowded indoor environments.

Overall, JCDHE data shows nearly 46,700 Johnson Countians have been infected with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic last year. In the last 14 days, 173 new cases were reported.

And 668 people in Johnson County have died from the disease.

Johnson County vaccination rate compares favorably

Despite some anxiety over the decreasing rate of uptake of COVID-19 vaccines in Johnson County, the county remains the highest vaccinated county in the Kansas City metro, according to data from the CDC.

Overall, the CDC says about 51% of all residents in Johnson County have been fully vaccinated, which is above the national average of 45% and well ahead of other metro counties.

Johnson County is the second most vaccinated county in the state of Kansas, behind Graham County, a sparsely populated county in western Kansas, that has 61% of its residents vaccinated.

According to the CDC, 90% of individuals in Johnson County who are over 65 years of age, the most vulnerable age group to COVID-19 impacts, have been fully vaccinated, well above the national average.

Meanwhile, 64% of individuals 18 years of age and older in Johnson County have been fully vaccinated, which is also ahead of the national average of 56%.

In the youngest age group eligible to get vaccinated, 60% of kids between 12 and 17 years old in Johnson County have been vaccinated, which is above the national average of 53%.