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Sunday, July 3, 2022

Johnson County schools are back in session, as health officials hold their breath and wait

Note: The Shawnee Mission Post is making much of its local coverage of the coronavirus pandemic accessible to non-subscribers. (If you value having a news source covering the situation in our community, we hope you’ll consider subscribing here.)

Local health experts and public health officials remain concerned about the potential for wider spread of COVID-19 among children now that all major public school districts in Johnson County are back in session.

Children under 12 remain ineligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and community spread of the disease remains high in Johnson County as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to cause new infections, especially among younger people and the unvaccinated.

The county will start to get a better sense next week of how COVID-19 is impacting schools and children learning in person.

Because public school districts say they plan to begin updating their COVID-19 dashboards to show how many students and staff members are being forced to quarantine and isolate at home due to positive cases.

Sharp rise in infections among kids

Locally and nationally children continue to bear the brunt of the Delta variant’s summer surge, and health officials worry the increased spread may not ebb until a vaccine is widely available for children or vaccination rates rise among those yet to receive the shot.

Johnson County’s overall vaccination sits close to 60% of eligible residents fully vaccinated, according to the county health department (the figure tracked by the CDC, which takes into account residents who may have gotten vaccinated in other states, is even higher above 70%).

But because of low vaccination rates across the Kansas City metro, the spread of the Delta variant makes children more susceptible, especially as the school year begins.

“The Delta variant is on steroids,” Dr. Angela Myers, an infectious disease doctor at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City said. “It is even more contagious than the first variant we saw back in the spring, and I think that’s the reason there’s so much discussion about this.”

While many children who get infected are not hospitalized, the disease can still cause adverse effects that can compromise a child’s health, Myers says. And children with autoimmune or other underlying health issues can become seriously ill.

Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician with Pediatric Associates in Overland Park, noted that some young patients she has seen are, “dropping club sports, having mental health issues, and having cognitive decline after getting infected.”

Data released by Children’s Mercy Hospital shows a continued spike in infection rates among people 18 and younger not seen since the height of the pandemic last winter.

The humber of positive tests among people 18 and younger recorded by Children’s Mercy last week ballooned to 393.

Age group (years)

<2

2-6

7-12

13-18

Number of patients

71

125

123

74

 

Data from Children’s Mercy hospital shows a sharp rise in the number of positive tests among children in all age groups over the past month. The jumps are especially pronounced for those ages 2-6 and ages 7-12. Image via Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Many of those infections did not warrant hospitalization.

Children’s Mercy Hospital said that roughly 5% of its total capacity of beds are currently dedicated to COVID-19 patients. As of Thursday morning, 18 of the hospital’s 350 beds are filled by patients admitted for COVID-19.

But, the hospital said 53 staff members had tested positive and were under isolation at home, which continues to cause strain on a health care system already stretched thin with staffing shortages.

Currently, vaccination trials are underway for children 12 and younger and there is speculation that a vaccine could be available as early as this fall. Both Pfizer and Moderna are running tests in the hopes of expediting a widespread vaccine safe for children, but there is no set date yet.

Johnson County health director Samni Areola, Ph.D., continues to stress the importance of getting vaccinated, not only as protection against the virus but also as a means to prevent spread to vulnerable populations, including children.

“We must remember that children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for vaccines, so we must do all we can to protect them. The more people get vaccinated, the better off we all are,” he said.

Here are some key COVID-19 metrics in Johnson County:

  • Percent positive: 9.6% percent positive, 14-day average (increase of 9.3 since Aug. 11)
  • Total deaths: 713 deaths (increase of 12 deaths since Aug. 11)
  • Cumulative cases: 52,145 positive cases of COVID-19 (increase of 1,196 since Aug. 11)
  • Incidence rate: 378 incidence rate, number of new cases/100K persons, over prior 14 days (increase of 24 since Aug. 11)

Vaccination opportunities this week:

Monday, Aug. 23

Tuesday, Aug. 24

First and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are also available on a walk-in basis at the county’s vaccination clinic in Mission.

The clinic is located at 6000 Lamar Ave., Suite 140, Mission, KS 66202. Its hours of operation are from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Thursday.

While the Mission office will serve as the primary vaccination site, individuals being seen for other services at the department’s Olathe walk-in clinic can also get a COVID-19 vaccination.

Each week the JCDHE will host several COVID-19 vaccination clinics across Johnson County. You can see an updated list here.

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