As COVID-19 cases rise in Johnson County, vaccinations hit new high — near 70%, CDC says

Local health officials continue to express worry and alarm about an ongoing surge in the Delta variant, especially among children and young people. But one encouraging sign: Johnson County's vaccination rate is nearing levels many public health officials have said is needed to achieve herd immunity. File photo.

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The ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the contagious Delta variant continues to worry health officials in Johnson County, with new cases over the past two weeks spiking to levels not seen in months.

A concurrent spike in COVID-19 testing in Johnson County may also suggest that case numbers could continue to rise in the near term.

At the same time, vaccination rates in Johnson County are also increasing, surpassing regional and even national averages.

Still, concern over increased spread of the Delta variant is driving much of the public health conversation, as local governments consider re-instituting mask mandates and schools craft COVID-19 mitigation plans for the coming academic year.

County health director Sanmi Areola, Ph.D., told county commissioners Thursday that Johnson County hospitals are nearing or “at capacity” with an influx of both COVID-19 patients, along with other people seeking other health care.

“A few weeks ago, they [hospitals] were seeing maybe 2 or 3 COVID patients at a time. Now, those numbers have gone up several fold,” he said.

This most recent rise in infections is different than past waves, he said, driven by cases in people 30 and younger.

He said the county is currently investigating outbreaks at several summer camps and child care establishments that did not have masking requirements.

“Hospitals are concerned about what they are seeing, especially the severity of illnesses they are seeing in young people and children,” Areola said.

Testing up

Data from the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment show a spike in new testing for COVID-19 over the past two weeks.

The number of COVID-19 tests conducted by JCDHE peaked at 2,373 on Monday, July 26, after topping 2,000 tests on two separate days the previous week. These were the first days in which 2,000 tests had been conducted in a single day since April 12th.

The number of new positive tests is also increasing, county health officials say, with rates of positive tests on some days hitting rates last seen in early February.

The increase in testing may indicate a number of trends.

“The mobility of JOCO residents, incidence rate, positivity rate, and hospital data are all factors,” Areola told the Post in an emailed statement. “Testing does give an indication but is not the only metric used to determine infections.”

Johnson County clinics and testing centers could be seeing more residents coming in to get tested as they begin to experience COVID-like symptoms.

Tests from local hospitals may also account for an increase in testing as they are seeing a rise in patients seeking treatment for COVID-19 and other illnesses.

Another contributing factor is the high rate of mobility of residents living in the Kansas City metro, working or traveling to get tested in Johnson County.

Vaccination rate hits new high

Even as there are concerns about renewed spread of the disease, especially among young people and children, Johnson County’s vaccination rate has jumped to new levels that get the county closer to coveted herd immunity.

However, the danger of breakthrough infections and previous immunizations wearing off and losing effectiveness remain.

By JCDHE’s own tally, 56.6% of eligible Johnson Countians 12 and older are now fully vaccinated.

More encouraging, data from the CDC — which includes residents who may get vaccinated across state lines — shows that 68.7% of eligible Johnson County residents are now fully vaccinated, and slightly more than 80% of eligible residents have received at least one shot.

For residents 65 and older, the percentage of fully vaccinated Johnson Countians is currently at 93.6%, according to the CDC.

Still, children 11 and younger remain ineligible to be vaccinated, a fact which has colored many schools’ debates about plans for the new school year.

While the county’s overall vaccination rate is relatively high, JCDHE says just 13.8% of residents 17 and younger are vaccinated, a fact which helped prompt the Shawnee Mission School District to require masks for elementary students when they return for in-person learning in August.

And the CDC reversed course this week, issuing new guidances recommending that fully vaccinated people in areas of “high” transmission (which includes Johnson County) go back to wearing masks in indoor public places.

Here are some key COVID-19 metrics in Johnson County:

  • Percent positive: 8.1% (14-day average), up from 5.2% on July 10
  • Total deaths: 679, increase of 1 death since July 21
  • Incidence rate: 258 cases/10o,000 residents (over prior 14 days), increase from 84 per 100,000 on July 9
  • Cumulative cases: 48,815 positive cases of COVID-19, an increase of 823 since July 21

Vaccine opportunities over the next week

  • Friday, July 30 — Picnic in the Park, Stump Park 4751 Woodland Drive, Shawnee 6-8 p.m.
  • Saturday, July 31 — Johnson County Fair 136 E. Washington Street. Gardner, 1-4 p.m.

Starting Monday, August 2, JCDHE will move its mass vaccination clinic to  Mission, at 6000 Lamar Ave., suite 140.

That clinic will operate from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Thursday and offer both first and second doses.

Vaccinations are also available at the JCDHE Olathe walk-in clinic at 11875 S Sunset Dr. #300 for individuals being seen for other services.

Each week the JCDHE will host several COVID-19 vaccination clinics across Johnson County. You can see an updated list here.

Editor Kyle Palmer contributed to this report.