COVID-19 cases in Wyandotte County are about as high as they have been.
Dr. Allen Greiner, chief medical officer for Wyandotte County, said that the seven-day average was about 483 cases on Wednesday in Wyandotte County. He spoke during the Thursday morning media update from the University of Kansas Health System.
“We can’t keep up with contact tracing,” Dr. Greiner said. The state health agency also can’t keep up. They are trying to do education other ways, he said.
Dr. Greiner said 33 percent of all the tests that are done in Wyandotte County are positive. Those positive cases who have never had COVID in the past are in the high 60s or low 70 percentile, he said.
He commended health care staff everywhere for being flexible during a highly stressful period.
“In the last month, the things people have gone through have been incredibly tough,” Dr. Greiner said.
The Unified Government Health Department has been able to provide people who tested positive with a letter that they can give to their employer to take time off, especially if they can’t get in to see their doctors, he said.
When this surge started, they tried to prioritize some people, including the older people who were highest risk and the middle-aged people who work in the public sector, to let them know to take some time off from work, he said.
Wyandotte County is only at 58 percent for those who have had their first vaccines, 49 percent for fully vaccinated, and 16 percent for boosters, he said. Only 40 percent of the 5-to-17 year olds have had first shots. They need second shots and boosters.
“We’ve got to get boosters into arms to protect people as much as we can,” Dr. Greiner said.
Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at KU Health System, said there are a variety of reasons people haven’t received boosters. Some haven’t prioritized their time, others may feel they don’t need it since they had the virus previously, he added.
“That additional dose really is key, just because of the time point that you are from that second dose,” Dr. Hawkinson said. It allows the immune system to further develop, he added.
Dr. Joseph LeMaster, chief medical officer in Johnson County, described a similar situation in Johnson County. They have seen record numbers of cases, with diagnosis rates about four times that of any other time in the pandemic, he said.
They are hopeful that numbers will come down, with indicators from wastewater monitoring pointing that way, he said.
“We don’t yet know what we are going to be facing in terms of the hospital systems, and the number of people that are going to be hospitalized,” he said.
They also are behind where they need to be in vaccination numbers, Dr. LeMaster said. More vaccinations are needed in the 17 and younger group.
Now that people have had the opportunity to get vaccinated, the issue is whether they will choose to get vaccinated, he said.
There is a certain amount of vaccine hesitancy happening, he said, and they have not reached certain minority populations.
Dr. Greiner said people have complicated lives, and there are a lot of families where parents work two or three jobs and have trouble getting to the vaccination sites. They have added some hours and also have had special clinics held at churches.
Dr. LeMaster pointed out that people could be out a day or two when they get the vaccine, but if they get COVID-19, they could be out for a week or more. He asked people to “do the math.”
He said most places, patients can get a COVID shot in their doctors’ offices now, and a booster shot.
Four cities in Johnson County recently put a mask ordinance back into place. Dr. LeMaster said he encouraged everyone to wear a mask in indoor situations with groups of people.
Johnson County is recommending more than a single mask – use a double mask, he said. The booster shot is the most effective solution, he added.
“I would be encouraging people not to be gathering unmasked in any indoor gatherings at all,” Dr. LeMaster said.
Dr. Greiner said Wyandotte County had a mask mandate for indoor public places, which is now not in effect here.
“It’s one of those things where you need societal buy-in,” he said. It’s like a red light, people need to trust that others will do this.
Dr. Greiner encouraged people to wear a double cloth mask, or a high-quality disposable surgical mask or a KN95 mask.
Enforcement has been a problem in the two counties, without enough people available to enforce a mask mandate.
Dr. LeMaster said they have been trying to educate people about masking. People are continuing to gather in large numbers in restaurants, retail situations and churches. While they have the freedom to do that, it doesn’t mean it’s wise to do so, he said.
“People wear masks when they come here (hospitals),” Dr. Greiner said. “The surgeons have been wearing masks for decades.”
They’re trying to protect their patients in the operating room, he added.
State laws changed to where the public health officers no longer make the health orders, but it’s in the hands of the county commissioners, Dr. LeMaster said.
It is a key time to seeing how they can help the hospitals as the COVID numbers are surging, he said. Numbers of increasing cases are followed two weeks later by increased hospitalizations, he added.
Dr. Greiner said it’s a balance. “You want to balance individual freedoms with what’s good for the collective.”
The Wyandotte County Health Department had a close relationship with the commissioners and the mayor, and they’re trying to work with them to reach the right balance, Dr. Greiner said.
Dr. LeMaster said even people who were boosted can become infected with the Omicron variant, and they may not have symptoms. It’s about protecting other people around you, not just you, he said. It’s important to wear a mask to not pass the virus along to someone else.
To see more of this conversation, visit https://www.facebook.com/kuhospital/videos/472075981106790.
UG taking a mask survey
The Unified Government is currently taking a short public survey on its website about whether residents favor masks.
The survey is online at https://elucd.typeform.com/to/Avah4P3y?utm_source=self_distribution&typeform-source=www.wycokck.org.
BPU COVID-19 cases down from two weeks ago
The Board of Public Utilities’ COVID-19 cases are down compared to the last three weeks, according to Dennis Dumovich, director of human resources at BPU. He made his report on Wednesday night at a BPU board meeting.
He said the BPU was down to four positive cases still in quarantine, with two due to come off quarantine on Thursday.
The BPU had nine COVID-19 cases about two weeks ago, he said.
Just under 75 percent of the BPU employees have been vaccinated, according to Dumovich. They are finding that employees who test positive are about half vaccinated and half not, he said. There have been a number of people who received booster shots that also were positive, he added.
Dumovich reported one BPU employee had to be hospitalized for COVID. Most have come back with no symptoms after five days, he added.
BPU Vice President Rose Mulvany Henry suggested that the BPU should work on a written pandemic plan to keep employees safe. General Manager Bill Johnson said although they don’t have a written plan, it would be easier to develop a plan now, since they previously implemented measures and made investments in technology that allowed employees to work from home. He said he wasn’t aware of a current need to have employees work from home, but he could come up with a written plan on how to handle a future pandemic and other emergencies.
COVID cases surging
On Thursday, KU Health System reported 118 active COVID inpatients, a decrease of six patients from Wednesday, according to Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control. Twenty-one COVID patients were in the intensive care unit, a decrease of three from Wednesday. Fifteen were on ventilators, a decrease of three from Wednesday. Another 78 patients were still hospitalized because of COVID but were out of the acute infection phase, an increase of three from Wednesday. There were a total of 196 COVID patients, a decrease of three since Wednesday. One COVID patient death was recorded on Jan. 19.
On Thursday, the Unified Government Health Department COVID information website reported 36,003 total cumulative COVID cases, an increase of 1,209 since Tuesday. There was a cumulative total of 435 deaths, an increase of four deaths since Tuesday.
The Mid-America Regional Council’s COVID information dashboard on Thursday reported 269 daily new hospitalizations in the nine-county Kansas City area. There were 4,657 new cases and 26 newly reported deaths in the Greater Kansas City area
Vaccines and tests available
The Unified Government’s Kmart facility at 7836 State, is open for COVID testing from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Rapid tests are not available at this site.
The Kmart facility is open for free vaccines from noon to 6 p.m. on Fridays. Walk-ins are welcome. For more information, see WycoVaccines.org.
Wyandotte County residents now can voluntarily report their at-home COVID tests to the Health Department at wycokck.org/covid-19.
Free COVID vaccines also are available by appointment only at the Health Department building at 6th and Ann Avenue from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Free COVID testing also is available from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at the Kansas National Guard Armory, 18th and Ridge.
There also are vaccines and tests available at mobile events.
The vaccines.gov website shows some other vaccination sites open in Wyandotte County.