With winter near, Johnson County health director urges against lax COVID-19 precautions

With colder weather — and more time indoors — on the horizon, Johnson County health officials are encouraging residents to continue adhering to COVID-19 mitigation guidelines including wearing masks. Photo credit Emma Kate Squires.

COVID-19 rates and metrics continue to trend downward in Johnson County but Johnson County Department of Health and Environment officials continue to caution against lax precautions in schools and encourage vaccinations ahead of the coming winter months.

“When the activity of the virus is this high, the community will impact outbreaks that we see in our schools,” JCDHE Director Samni Areola, PhD, told the board of county commissioners on Thursday. “I see a lot more work to do. The requirements to wear masks, the fact that we are increasing vaccinations, all of those have been very helpful.”

Along with the increase in vaccinations rates in Johnson County, health officials are also optimistic about a possible vaccination for children aged 5 to 11 that could be available in the coming months. Currently, there is no vaccine available for anyone under the age of 12. But that could change soon as the FDA is currently studying test results with a panel of experts on approving the Pfizer-BioNtech for children ages 5 to 11.

“We’re also very optimistic on what we are hearing in the news, that it is possible to have approval for vaccines for children aged 5 to 11, before December,” Areola said. “But before that we continue to have the responsibility to keep our children who do not qualify for vaccination, to keep them safe.”

Spring Hill infection rates improving after outbreak

JCDHE Director Sanmi Areola presented a graph showing the spike in infections at Spring Hill schools.

Last week’s JCDHE COVID-19 briefing included an update on the Spring Hill school district’s recently outbreak among students. Spring Hill has the most lenient COVID-19 policies of all Johnson County school districts with masking optional for high school students. At the height of the outbreak, Spring Hill had an incidence rate of 15 for every 1,000 students and was classified by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment as a COVID-19 cluster site.

The district also allows parents to opt-out of masking younger children without doctor exemption notice, something JCDHE health officials have advised against. Health officials continue to encourage the district to follow the guidelines that have been set forth for all Johnson County schools districts and practice masking for staff and children, social distancing, handwashing, and regular testing for those showing signs of infection.

Spring Hill infections spiked early this month but have steadily improved. But mitigations measures could still be better as the wait for children vaccinations continues.

“We have cases and we are managing several outbreaks in our schools. And until we have vaccines for children, we need to continue our mitigation measures.”

Booster shot available through JCDHE

JCDHE will also continue to offer booster shots to those meeting the eligibility requirements set by the CDC. The booster shot will be available at the JCDHE clinic and Olathe location and various other pharmacies, and private and public vaccination sites.

Currently, the booster shot is available for anyone who has received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least 6 months ago and is:

  • 65 years or older
  • Anyone 18 or older who live in a long term care facility
  • Anyone 18 or older who has an underlying medical condition
  • Anyone 18 or older who works in a high exposure setting
  • Anyone 18 or older who live in a high exposure setting

Currently, Johnson County reports that nearly 63% of total residents are vaccinated — a statistic that has only incrementally increased over the past several weeks.

New virus infections continue to trend downward and currently sit at 5.2% as of Oct 3.

Key Metrics

Percent Positive: 5.2% 7-day average

Incidence rate: 151 for every 1,000 persons in the past 7 days

Cumulative cases: 58,627 total cases

Total deaths: 886 total deaths

Vaccination Opportunities this week

The county will be offering a walk-in vaccination clinic on Thursday, October 7 at the Kansas School for the Deaf, (450 E. Park Street) from 2-4 p.m. and Saturday, October 9 at Mission Family Picnic, (5701 Broadmoor) from 5-8 p.m.

Vaccines are also available on a walk-in basis at the county’s main permanent walk-in clinic in Mission, 6000 Lamar Ave., Suite 140. The clinic is open 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays.

Individuals can also get vaccinated at JCDHE’s walk-in clinic in Olathe, as well.

An updated list of clinics hosted by the JCDHE can be found here.

Each week, vaccination clinics will be offered across Johnson County to anyone 12 years and older.