Delta variant becoming ‘dominant strain’ of COVID-19 in Johnson County — here’s what that could mean

Johnson County Delta variant

Johnson County health officials say they have confirmed at least 57 cases of the Delta variant in Johnson County and that evidence from genomic sequencing data shows that mutation is likely now the "dominant strain" of COVID-19 here. Still, JCDHE is not changing its recommendation that fully vaccinated people can go unmasked in most public settings. File photo.

New cases of COVID-19 continue their steady upward climb in Johnson County, driven by the more contagious Delta variant.

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment says the Delta variant — which was first discovered in India and is now spreading rapidly in some U.S. states — is becoming the “dominant strain” in Johnson County.

The county’s incidence rate of new cases now sits at 48 per 100,000, and percent positivity tops 3% for the first time since early May.

Still, Johnson County’s relatively high rate of vaccination so far appears to be preventing the type of renewed surge seen in less vaccinated areas of the country, including southwest Missouri, where hospitals are sending out calls for nurses and respiratory therapists as they struggle with an explosion of new cases.

Here are answers to some questions you may have about the Delta variant and how it’s impacting Johnson County:

How widespread is the Delta variant in Johnson County?

  • As of Tuesday, July 6, JCDHE says it has identified 57 cases of the Delta variant in Johnson County.
  • JCDHE says so far it has not confirmed any deaths from the Delta variant here.
  • Jennifer Dunlay, a spokesperson for JCDHE, said the rate of cases coming back Delta from genomic sequences studied in the county is increasing and that the Delta variant is now “likely the dominant strain” of COVID-19 in Johnson County.

Who is getting infected now?

  • Younger people and those who are unvaccinated, according to JCDHE.
  • Dunlay said people 19 years and younger now make up 30% of all infections in Johnson County.
  • County health director Sanmi Areola, Ph.D., told the Board of County Commissioners last week that nearly all hospitalizations and serious illnesses now being seen in the county are occurring in people who are unvaccinated.

If I’m fully vaccinated, am I in danger of getting infected by the Delta variant?

  • It’s possible but very unlikely, according to health experts.
  • Public health officials in Johnson County and elsewhere have recorded rare “breakthrough” cases, where a fully vaccinated individual gets infected with a COVID-19 variant.
  • But JCDHE officials say that even in these isolated cases, fully vaccinated individuals’ COVID-19 symptoms are generally not severe and do not require hospitalization or intensive care.
  • The CDC says about 61% of Johnson County’s eligible population (that is, people 12 and older) have now been fully vaccinated, which remains the highest rate of any county in the Kansas City area.
  • The higher a community’s overall vaccination rate is, the lower the chance of the disease spreading and mutating into new forms that could be more resistant to vaccines.

Should I start wearing a mask again in public?

Will this impact school when kids start returning in August?

  • It could, though no public school district in Johnson County has yet released definitive plans for what school will look like this fall.
  • Currently, Johnson County’s incidence rate and percent positivity are hovering near levels at which JCHDE could recommend that schools be in hybrid mode, if the numbers keep increasing by the time school starts again.
  • Areola says schools remain “environments that are extremely conducive to spread,” and JCDHE says it is investigating “clusters and outbreaks” that have occurred this summer at summer camps.
  • With kids younger than 12 still ineligible to get vaccinated, Areola said schools will likely still need to take precautionary measures to reduce the chance of spread in their buildings this fall.

Can I still get vaccinated?

  • Yes, and public health officials urge you to get vaccinated if you have not done so already.
  • People 12 and older are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • You can go here to set up an appointment with the county.
  • You can also walk in to the county’s mass vaccination clinic, which is open from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, and from 3 to 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays in July.
  • All local health care systems are also offering vaccines, as are private pharmacies. You can check this interactive map to find a vaccine distributor near you.