Johnson County downgrades its COVID-19 risk from ‘high’ to ‘substantial’ — here’s why

Johnson County COVID-19

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment has lowered the county's COVID-19 "community risk" level from "high" to "substantial." Two key metrics — incidence rate and percent positivity — are at their lowest points in Johnson County since late July, when a summer surge driven by the Delta variant was just beginning to peak. Above, a scene in a local bookstore. File image.

The “community risk” metric used to classify the current level of COVID-19 spread in Johnson County has been downgraded from “High” to “Substantial,” according to the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.

The change is reflected currently on JCDHE’s online COVID-19 dashboard and comes as new cases of the disease in the county continue their steady decline over the past month.

Currently, Johnson County’s incidence rate sits at 91 per 100,000 residents, the first time since late July that that figure was below 100. A month ago, the county’s incidence rate was 191 per 100,000 on Sept. 16.

The county’s percent positivity rate is currently 4.9% as of Monday. That metric peaked at 8.9% on Aug. 17 amid this summer’s spoke in new cases driven by the Delta variant.

The current percent positivity level falls in JCDHE’s “low” category for assessing COVID-19 spread. County health officials say those metrics, as well as vaccination rates, factor into the overall risk designation.

“We want to continue to push these metrics down and regular conversations with hospitals, also show that the rate of hospitalizations and ICU are all trending positively also,” county health director Samni Areola, Ph.D., told county commissioners at their regular meeting last week.

Currently, the county reports that nearly 64% of eligible Johnson Countians — more than 325,200 people total — have been fully vaccinated. (The CDC reports 77% of Johnson County residents are fully vaccinated, a figure that takes into account residents who may have been vaccinated out of state.)

Why this matters

County health leaders say with countywide mitigation efforts in place — including a public health order that requires masks be worn in schools serving students up to and including 6th grade — steady improvement in COVID-19 data is starting to show.

Along with community vaccinations efforts, masking and social distancing data is continuing to trend toward lower infections and less death, Areola told the county commission.

“So, all of the things that we have been doing that our residents have been doing — wearing masks, physically distancing, adhering to those mitigation measures — they are working,” Areola said.

Infections and outbreaks in schools are also declining, he said. Many school districts are reporting lower COVID infection rates among staff and students than they were at the start of the school year in August.

Additionally, Areola said, the promise that children ages 5 to 11 may soon be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines also brings hope that this could be the tail end of the final wave of infections. (More information about the FDA’s vaccination recommendations for younger children could be released in the coming weeks.)

Still with the fall cold-and-flu season nearly here and holiday travel around the corner, local health officials continue to advise against the rollback of mitigation efforts and say they are still concerned about neighboring counties where there are higher transmission levels and lower vaccination rates.

Health officials continue to urge individuals to get vaccinated if they have not already done so and to keep wearing masks and socially distancing when possible in order to contain the spread of the disease.

“We appreciate the continued use of safety precautions that have helped us achieve a lower case count – wearing masks, avoiding crowded indoor environments, vaccinations, and just understanding the need to be careful,” Dr. Areola said. “JCDHE will continue to work with community partners to offer this safe and effective vaccine, and encourage our residents to continue to follow these mitigation steps.”