New COVID-19 cases drop sharply in Johnson County, but officials warn ‘we’re still not out of the woods’

Johnson County health officials say the trajectory of new cases of COVID-19 has gone down sharply over the past week, mirroring trends seen in other places around the world that have seen their Omicron waves subside. But overall, numbers remain "extraordinarily high" compared to previous waves. A countywide mask order for elementary schools still remains in place. File image.

New coronavirus cases in Johnson County appear to be on a downward trajectory from the recent Omicron spike, public health officials say.

Dr. Sanmi Areola shared relatively good news Thursday morning with county commissioners, noting the incidence rate graph lines are beginning to bear a resemblance to those in South Africa, the United Kingdom and other areas that saw the variant before Kansas in which the line of cases first went sharply up and then went sharply down.

That said, though, he warned against overconfidence because the cases are still much higher than they were before the highly transmissible new variant arrived.

“Things are not getting worse,” he said. “The trajectory has changed and that’s a good thing. But we do want everyone to understand we’re still not out of the woods yet. Things are still pretty bad.”

The latest data

As of Thursday, the county’s online COVID-19 dashboard showed an incidence rate of 1,003 cases per 100,000 over the past seven days, with a positivity rate of 23.6%.

Both those numbers have declined significantly since the virus began packing hospitals at the start of the new year. On Jan. 25, for example, county cases peaked at 2,397 per 100,000 residents.

Areola and epidemiologist Elizabeth Holzschuh warned that the county still has a ways to go to get back to pre-Omicron levels.

Back in October, as the Delta version of COVID-19 was dominant, the rate new cases was around 284 per 100,000 residents. Positivity at its highest point hit 31.5% in January, compared to 4.6% just last November.

“The numbers are still extraordinarily high,” Holzschuh said.

Drop in hospitalizations

Hospital numbers are also on the downswing, Areola said, though COVID-19 admissions are still not low enough to solve staffing shortages.

Hospitalizations and deaths, which usually lag other indicators, may remain high for a while longer, he said.

There have been 80 deaths fro COVID-19 in Johnson County since the beginning of January, he said.

The officials urged people to continue to protect themselves and others, in particular by getting vaccinated and wearing masks.

County COVID-19 data shows 66.3% of eligible residents are are fully vaccinated.

For the youngest group, ages 5-11, about 30% are vaccinated.