Johnson County health experts worry this fall could pose ‘greater risk’ than last year with COVID-19 cases still high

Prairie Village mask mandate

Health officials still recommend people wear masks in most indoor public settings and even consider masking up in crowded outdoor events if you're around people who may not be vaccinated against COVID-19. Case rates that spiked with this summer's surge of the Delta variant in Johnson County have leveled off, but health experts warn the coming fall season could prompt a new uptick in spread. File photo.

COVID-19 data shows that new cases of the disease in Johnson County continue to decline after hitting a renewed peak in late August caused by the contagious Delta variant.

But with fall— and traditional cold and flu season — right around the corner and colder weather accompanying that, local health officials warn that the ebb in positive cases might be short-lived.

“We’re concerned following any kind of holiday or other events that that is going to bring a lot of people together and potentially increase transmission,” Dr. Charlie Hunt, deputy director of Johnson County Health and Environment said at the Johnson County Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday.

He went on: “History has shown that crowded, indoor settings have the potential to accelerate the spread of the virus,” he said. “JCDHE strongly recommends that all eligible people receive their COVID-19 vaccination, especially as the weather gets colder and more people are indoors.”

On Thursday, President Joe Biden laid out a multi-part plan to try to combat the virus, including a forthcoming federal rule that all employers with 100 or more workers either require their employees be vaccinated or submit to regular COVID-19 testing.

Businesses and organizations around the Kansas City metro on Friday were assessing the proposed rule changes’ potential impact on their operations, but Biden’s initiative drew opposition from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

“The Kansas Chamber and its members believe in the right of employers to determine their own policies for employees. In the case of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations, regardless of the level of government, businesses should neither be required nor prevented from requiring the vaccination,” the Chamber said in a statement.

JoCo COVID trends

Data released by JCDHE shows the vaccination rate continues to incrementally increase.

Rates continued their gradual uptick again this week and currently sit at 61% of people 12 years and older fully vaccinated.

Data published by the CDC shows Johnson County’s vaccination rate for eligible residents (those 12 and older) to be closer to 73% because the CDC includes individuals who may have been vaccinated in other states.

Johnson County’s incidence rate also continues to decline.

Currently, there are 356 cases per 100,000 residents. That metric has remained relatively flat over the past month and continues to recede after spiking this summer.

Impact of holidays

Still, data could fluctuate in coming weeks due to holidays and large gatherings.

Health officials, as they have done following past holidays, are looking to see changes in data trends following the long Labor Day weekend in which many residents traveled across the metro or attended events and mass gatherings.

In addition, there are observations of religious holidays in September, including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

And tens of thousands of football fans are expected to gather at Arrowhead Stadium this Sunday for the Kansas City Chiefs’ season opener.

“I think that what we just have to recognize is that we probably are at greater risk this year than last year,” Stephen Stites, MD, chief medical officer at KU Health, said earlier this week. “We’re already really open again, our case volume is much higher and schools have opened back up again.”

The University of Kansas Health System announced this week that it had surpassed the grim milestone of 500 COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic — a reminder that the Delta variant continues to strain local health care systems and pose danger to people, especially the unvaccinated.

On Wednesday, KU Health reported that there were 100 COVID-19 patients being treated at its facility. Of those, 50 were active cases and 16 were receiving treatment in the ICU, with nine on ventilators.

Masking recommendations hold steady

JCDHE officials continue to strongly recommend that anyone eligible get their COVID-19 vaccination along with their annual flu shot.

JCDHE also advises that people wear a mask when indoors with others who are not part of their household, wash their hands frequently and stay home if they are sick.

This is especially important to students as schools continue to implement universal masking for all students and staff, a decision that’s been a continued point of contention.

Last week, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Blue Valley student challenging Johnson County’s public health order that requires masks be worn in all schools — public and private — that enroll students up to and including 6th grade.

School health officials also continue to update each district’s COVID dashboard to reflect new data regarding exposure and quarantine of staff and students.

Check out each major Johnson County public school district’s COVID-19 dashboard:

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

  • Percent positive: 7.6%, 14-day average (a decrease from 8.7% on Sept. 1)
  • Incidence rate: 356 new cases/100,000 persons, over prior 14 days (decrease of 33 on Sept. 1)
  • Cumulative cases: 55,385 (increase of 899 since Sept. 1)
  • Total deaths: 743 deaths (increase of 11 deaths since Sept. 1)

Vaccination opportunities this week:

The county will be offering a walk-in vaccination clinic on Sunday, Sept. 12, at St. Thomas the Apostle, 12251 Antioch Rd., from 1-3 p.m.

Vaccines are also available on a walk-in basis at the county’s main permanent walk-in clinic in Mission, 6000 Lamar Ave., Suite 140.

That clinic is open 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays.

Individuals can also get vaccinated at JCDHE’s walk-in clinic in Olathe, as well.

An updated list of clinics hosted by the JCDHE can be found here.

Each week, vaccination clinics will be offered across Johnson County to anyone 12 years and older.