Johnson County’s COVID-19 risk rises to ‘medium’ level — ‘The virus has not gone away’

Johnson County vaccine

The county's percent positivity now tops 27%, after bottoming out near 2% in March, according to county health data. File photo.

Johnson County is no longer categorized as a low-risk community level for COVID-19.

What’s changed? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention once again lists Johnson County as having a “medium” level of risk, per the agency’s COVID-19 data tracker.

  • That’s more elevated than “low” but still below “high.”
  • The county’s risk level has moved up because its case rate per 100,000 residents is now tops 200, according to the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment Director Sanmi Areola, who told the Post via email that the change from low to medium risk happened in early July.

What’s causing increased spread? Areola said there are a number of factors, including transmission of two newer, more infectious BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants that are circulating nationwide.

  • Areola confirmed BA.5 is in Johnson County and now accounts for more than 50% of new cases, based on county wastewater samples.
  • The increase in infections can also be linked to the fact that people are going back to living in pre-pandemic ways, Areola said — routinely going without masks and with no restrictions for large, in-person gatherings like games and concerts.
  • Areola added that the number of actual infections is likely much higher than what is officially reported — “by at least a factor of 10” — because most testing is being done at home now and people often don’t report results to JCDHE.

Background: JCDHE announced almost a month ago in a COVID-19 update newsletter that cases were on the rise.

  • Joseph LeMaster, the county’s public health officer, said in a June 15 update that infections had risen significantly in the prior three weeks.
  • The wave, he said, was similar to that of the Delta wave last summer.
  • While cases are on the rise, LeMaster said in the update video that JCDHE is likely underreporting the case numbers due to people who test at home and do not report their results to the county.
  • Those who take a COVID-19 antigen test at-home can report their results to JCDHE online here.

Key quote: “The virus is here, it has not gone away despite whatever you’ve heard about the pandemic being over — the virus certainly is here, people are still being hospitalized for it,” LeMaster said in a June 15 COVID-19 update. “It’s important to do what you can to protect yourself, your family and your neighbors.”

Current numbers: As of July 12, the county’s COVID-19 dashboard showed 209 cases recorded per 100,000 persons in the previous seven days, and the percent positivity rate, as of July 9, sat at 27.5%, according to the dashboard.

  • The seven-day percent positivity rate climbed to 27.5% from a low of 2.2% in late March, according to the dashboard.
  • More than 65% of the eligible Johnson County population is fully vaccinated and 75% of the eligible population is partially vaccinated, according to the dashboard.
  • The Kansas City metropolitan area is seeing a daily average of 409 new cases, according to the Mid-America Regional Council Kansas City region COVID-19 dashboard.

Public health recommendations: Areola said the county is still recommending the public take the normal precautions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

  • People should wear masks when in large groups.
  • Stay updated on vaccinations and boosters. Find out how to get your first or second dose here, or how to get boosted here.
  • Those who are immunocompromised should take additional steps such as talking to their healthcare provider about other precautions.
  • As should those who are in contact or live with someone who is at high-risk for diseases, he said.
  • Consider self-testing or wearing a mask around those who are at high-risk, he said.