Herd immunity not the answer, health officials say

Wyandotte County reported 59 additional COVID-19 cases on Sunday, for a cumulative total of 8,460, according to the Unified Government COVID-19 webpage. There were no additional deaths reported, for a cumulative total of 165. (From UG COVID-19 webpage) (https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/8781f01908d8403e9273d78e66e6219b)

Nine months into the pandemic, many in the Kansas City region and across the country are suffering from COVID-19 fatigue. Some have suggested it would be better to fully open businesses and schools without mask or social distancing requirements, letting the virus run its course in order to build herd immunity. According to local public health officials, this is an extremely risky strategy that would have catastrophic results.

“Herd immunity” is achieved when enough people (at least 80% of the population) are no longer vulnerable to infection — either because they’ve already had the disease, or they have been vaccinated against it. Diseases that used to be common in the U.S., such as measles and chicken pox, have become rare because of robust vaccination programs that support herd immunity.

“Until we have a proven safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19, we cannot safely reach herd immunity,” said Dr. Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department. “Natural infection in large enough numbers to achieve herd immunity would come at a huge cost of human life and health. Currently we believe only 5 to 10% of the population has been infected with COVID, at a cost of more than 224,000 lives nationwide. Now imagine the additional 1.5 to 2 million deaths that would occur before reaching at least an 80% infection rate.”

COVID-19 has a significantly higher death rate than many other viruses — about 10 times higher than influenza, for example — and the long-term effects on those who have had COVID-19 are not yet fully understood. Additionally, the virus risk isn’t the same for everyone. Vulnerable populations, including older adults, people of color and people with preexisting conditions or limited access to health care, are at higher risk of infection and death from COVID-19, according to health officials.

“COVID-19 is real, it is dangerous, and we have to take it seriously,” said Dr. Erin Corriveau, deputy health officer for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County – Kansas City, Kansas. “Until a vaccine is widely available and widely adopted, the best defense we have is to continue to wear cloth face masks in public, practice good hand hygiene and maintain social distancing of 6 feet or more from people who don’t live in our own households.”

As response to the pandemic has become more politically charged, some have attempted to discredit this science-based public health guidance, claiming that “focused protection” can build herd immunity. This theory recommends opening up schools, sports, restaurants and events for young, healthy people who are at less risk of serious illness, while encouraging older adults and others at higher risk to stay home. Supporters theorize that increasing natural infection among young, healthy people would effectively build herd immunity.

Local public health directors say this approach won’t stop the spread of disease and is wrong for our region. Separating those who are young and healthy from those who are more vulnerable is impractical, if not impossible. In addition, doctors have seen devastating health outcomes among some young and middle-aged people in the community who have been infected, including severe heart failure, stroke, chronic fatigue and even death.

“The idea that herd immunity can quickly put an end to the pandemic is wishful thinking,” Dr. Corriveau said. “Sweden tried this strategy last spring, and their state epidemiologist has since admitted it was wrong, causing thousands of deaths, especially in their older population.”

Allowing COVID-19 to spread unchecked in search of herd immunity would also strain the capacity of hospitals and health care providers across the region, especially with the winter flu season approaching.

“We all need to stay focused on what we know works best right now: wear a mask, wash your hands frequently and keep your distance from others, especially in indoor environments where others are not wearing masks,” Dr. Archer said. “Most importantly, get tested if you have symptoms or think you may have been exposed to the virus, and stay home if you are sick.”

Cases in Wyandotte County increase by 59

Wyandotte County reported 59 additional COVID-19 cases on Sunday, for a cumulative total of 8,460, according to the Unified Government COVID-19 webpage. There were no additional deaths reported, for a cumulative total of 165. (https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/8781f01908d8403e9273d78e66e6219b)

The MARC Kansas City Region COVID-19 hub reported 58,101 total cumulative COVID-19 cases and 990 total deaths on Saturday for the nine-county Greater Kansas City area. The average daily number of cases was 471, up from 402 last week. The average daily number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital was 414, up from 390 last week. (https://marc2.org/covidhub/)

Free COVID-19 testing available Monday

COVID-19 saliva testing began last Friday at the Health Department testing site at 7836 State Ave., Kansas City, Kansas. No food or drink is allowed 15 minutes before the test and no smoking is allowed 30 minute before. The sample is collected by holding a swab under the tongue for 1 minute.

The Unified Government Health Department has moved its COVID-19 testing from the 6th and Ann location to the former Kmart at 78th and State Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas. The hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Tests are free for those who live or work in Wyandotte County.

The tests now are open to asymptomatic people as well as those who have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19. Check with the UG Health Department’s Facebook page to see if there have been any changes in the schedule because of the weather or for other reasons. Bring something that shows that you live or work in Wyandotte County, such as a utility bill.

For more information about the new testing site at the former Kmart location, visit https://alpha.wycokck.org/files/assets/public/health/documents/covid/10092020_newtestingsitewyco.pdf.

For more information about saliva tests, visit https://alpha.wycokck.org/files/assets/public/health/documents/covid/10302020-salivatestinginwyco.pdf

The UG COVID-19 webpage is at https://alpha.wycokck.org/Coronavirus-COVID-19-Information.

The KDHE’s COVID-19 webpage is at https://www.coronavirus.kdheks.gov/.

The Unified Government COVID-19 hub outbreak map is at https://wyandotte-county-covid-19-hub-unifiedgov.hub.arcgis.com/.

To see an NEA list of schools that have had COVID-19 cases, visit https://app.smartsheet.com/b/publish?EQBCT=aa3f2ede7cb2415db943fdaf45866d2f.

The KC Region COVID-19 Hub dashboard is at https://marc2.org/covidhub/.

The CDC’s COVID-19 webpage is at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.

Last-minute push to get out the vote; rides to polls offered here

With Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 3, efforts are continuing to get out the vote in Wyandotte County.

Jacques Barber, chairman of the Wyandotte County Democratic Central Committee, is encouraging people who still have mail-in ballots at home to drop them off in election drop boxes, take them to the Election Office or take them to the polls on Election Day.

He said rides are available to the polls on Election Day, and rides also are available to take mail-in ballots to drop boxes.

Last Thursday, Wyandotte County election officials stated that almost 30,000 people here had already voted through mail ballots and advance in-person voting.

Barber said voter turnout they’re seeing so far is good, and better than in prior elections.

He’s happy to see that and would like to see even more response, he said. It’s a constant challenge that there are people who are eligible to vote who don’t vote, he said.

“My goal is to try to reach as many of those folks as we can to find out the reasons why they don’t vote, and help them to understand why it is important, and the fact that their votes really do matter, and that nothing will change by not voting,” he said.

Voters in general have been very motivated this year. Some people have told him they’ve never voted before, but they felt like they had to this time, he said.

He has seen some polls, but doesn’t want to take anything for granted, he said.

“I don’t want to be complacent,” Barber said. “It’s not over ‘til it’s over.”

There was an extremely high return rate on mail-in ballots in the primary election, he said, which is an encouraging indication of the commitment of people to vote, who do vote by mail.

They have been encouraging people to vote by mail this year, he said, as an easy and safe way to vote.

“That was a big push for us, particularly in the era of COVID,” he said.

Now that there are only a few days left until Election Day, he’s encouraging people who still have mail-in ballots at home to fill them out, take them to drop boxes, the Election Office or to their polling places on Election Day, to make sure they get there on time.

Under state law, mail-in ballots can be postmarked by 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3, and must be received by the Election Office by Friday, but at this time Barber is encouraging voters to drop the ballots off to the drop boxes. They don’t want to take any chances with the mail ballots not getting there by Friday.

“We really believe it’s too late to try to mail it,” Barber said. “We do encourage them and strongly suggest, if there’s a way to get it dropped off, they can drop it off in one of the drop boxes around the county, and can take it to one of the early voting sites and drop it off there. On Tuesday, they can drop it off in person at the Election Office.”

There are two ballot drop boxes at the Election Office and four others around the county to drop them off, he said. The advance mail ballots also can be dropped off at regular polling places on Election Day, during hours the polls are open.

“We have also given people rides to the polls,” Barber said. “Some were disabled and not able to drive. We were happy to arrange rides for them.”

They also have been doing aggressive phone banks and other activities to get out the vote, he said.

People who need rides to the polls or rides to a drop box can call Barber at 913-514-4605.

Also, they may call Charles Carney of Carney Disability Representative Services at 913-603-2483 for a ride to the polls, Barber said. Carney has received a grant to take disabled and elderly voters to the polls.

Early voting in person has been taking place since Oct. 20, and one last chance to vote early will be 8 a.m. to noon Monday morning at the Election Office, 850 State Ave.

There were earlier reports of provisional ballots not being available at some of the satellite voting sites. A voter whose voter registration is questioned should be given a provisional ballot. According to Democratic leaders, anyone who had been turned away earlier can return to cast a provisional ballot.

Those who received a mail ballot at home should not vote in person at the polls, but should complete the mail ballot and drop it off before 7 p.m. Nov. 3 at the ballot drop box, Election Office or polling place. The ballots in the drop boxes are being picked up each day by the Election Office.

Election Day voting in person will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 3 at the voter’s assigned polling place.

Advance voting in person will continue from 8 a.m. to noon on Monday, Nov. 2, at the Election Office, 850 State Ave.

The locations of the six drop boxes: two drop boxes at the Election Office, 850 State Ave.; one each at Kansas City, Kansas, City Hall, 701 N. 7th St.; at the West Wyandotte Library, 1737 N. 82nd St.; at Bonner Springs City Library, 201 N. Nettleton Ave., Bonner Springs; and at Edwardsville City Hall, 690 S. 4th St., Edwardsville.

For more information on voting and locations of polling places on Election Day, visit www.wycovotes.org.

Earlier stories about the election are at http://www.wyandottedaily.com/category/election-2020/.