Wyandotte County could remain in Phase 3 of reopening plan for longer period of time

Wyandotte County health officials are watching the rolling 14-day average of positive COVID-19 cases, which have shown a little increase in the past 10 days. (Chart from UG Health Department)

Wyandotte County may not move into the next phase of the reopening plan on June 22 as planned. Local health officials are watching the case numbers, which have increased a bit in recent weeks.

Dr. Allen Greiner, Wyandotte County chief medical officer, said today at a news conference sponsored by the University of Kansas Health System that in the metropolitan area, there is a little bit of an uptick in cases, probably due to the relaxation of ordinances and the phases they have gone through.

Wyandotte County’s numbers are high when compared with some surrounding communities. (Chart from UG Health Department)

Wyandotte County will likely be staying in Phase 3 at least until June 22, according to a news release from the Health Department, and they are still looking at the figures to determine if the county moves up or down or stays at the same phase.

The rate of positivity in Wyandotte County is still higher than most of the other counties in the metro area, Dr. Greiner said at the news conference.

“We’re still very worried in Wyandotte about what’s going on, and we do have a very vulnerable population,” Dr. Greiner said. “We have a lot of sick folks in Wyandotte, so we want to protect them.”

In the last 10 days there has been an upward trend, and they have seen it in Wyandotte and Johnson counties, he added.

The rolling average of COVID-19 deaths in Wyandotte County is doing very well and has been stable or declining, according to health officials. (From UG Health Department)

Deaths have been very stable or declining in Wyandotte County over a 14-day average, he said. He added they don’t know why there are less deaths, but they hope that it’s related to the way they’re protecting the most vulnerable, such as those in nursing homes.

Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at KU Health System, said KU Hospital is seeing a little different patient population, patients who are a little younger and who have a little less complex conditions. The length of stay has dropped from 13 to 14 days to seven or eight, he added.

“The hospital numbers here may be a little lower,” he said, “but the number of admissions is up, and the discharges are up.”

There was a slight increase, from 17 on Monday to 19 on Tuesday, of COVID-19 patients at the University of Kansas Health System, according to Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at the health system. There were seven patients in the intensive care unit, down from eight on Monday, and five were on ventilators, up from four on Monday.

Wyandotte County reported 1,692 positive cases at 1 p.m. Tuesday, an increase of 15 cases since 1 p.m. Monday. The number of deaths was the same. (From UG COVID-19 website)

Wyandotte County reported 1,692 positive cases at 1 p.m. Tuesday, an increase of 15 cases since 1 p.m. Monday, according to the UG’s COVID-19 website. The number of deaths were the same.

Dr. Greiner said there has been an effective intervention in the nation, with people protecting the most vulnerable.

The percentage of positive tests among all those who are tested for COVID-19 has been improving in Wyandotte County, according to health officials. (Chart from UG Health Department)

The percent positivity rate has been declining in Wyandotte County, Dr. Greiner said, It measures the percentage of positive tests among all who are tested. The positivity rate is still high in Wyandotte County compared to others, he said.

“We’re seeing a lot of cases and deaths in long-term nursing care,” he said.

Three COVID-19 outbreaks in Wyandotte County nursing homes accounted for 55 percent of the deaths in the county. (Chart from UG Health Department)

Forty-five percent of the deaths in the United States and 53 percent in Kansas have come from long-term care facilities.

There have been three outbreaks in long-term care facilities in Wyandotte County, according to Dr. Greiner.

Together, they accounted for 193 cases, 42 deaths and 55 hospitalizations.

Riverbend Post-Acute Care facility accounted for 132 cases, 36 deaths and 41 hospitalizations. It was 47 percent of the total deaths in Wyandotte County.

“We feel like we’re doing a better job,” Dr. Greiner said about the long-term care facilities here. They are doing cyclical testing every so often, he said. It’s about a 10-day cycle, he added.

“Something has worked pretty well, so that we’re not as surprised,” he said.

However, they have seen a lot of surprises in meatpacking operations and employer-based outbreaks, he added.

Dr. Jessica Kalender-Rich, who was recently selected to serve on the White House Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes, said CDC guidance suggests that they should test all the nursing home staff every week. Counties need to make individual decisions on their capacity to test, the prevalence and the need to test before making reopening decisions that would allow individuals to visit the nursing homes again.

Outbreaks are now smaller because they are doing a better job of testing the whole facility once there’s one positive, and then containing all the positive cases together, and continuing to test in order to keep people separate and safer, Dr. Kalender-Rich said.

Dr. Hawkinson said the rate of positivity of health care workers is basically the same as the community. A study in Belgium found the highest risk of health care workers having a positive test is from a household contact with COVID-19, he said. He said they are able to protect the health care workers while they are in the hospital.

Dr. Greiner said some of Wyandotte County’s numbers are driven by social determinants of health. Lower income, closer living conditions and chronic stress can contribute to health problems.

Dr. Kalender-Rich said larger and urban nursing care facilities are more likely to have larger and worse outbreaks, according to studies. Some urban facilities have a lower age of residents because of cumulative effect of comorbidities, she said.

Dr. Hawkinson said early treatment is helpful for COVID-19. They are doing studies for remdesivir and plasma at the KU Health System, he said.

On the national level, an announcement on Tuesday sparked a rally in the stock market when it was stated that dexamethasone has reduced the rate of deaths by about one-third among hospitalized COVID-19 patients, according to international study results. The FDA also recently announced it was taking hydroxychloroquine off the list of medications for emergency use for COVID-19.

On the question of treatment, Dr. Stites said people could go to the emergency room if they are having shortness of breath and other symptoms. Dr. Greiner urged people to stay in touch with their primary health care providers to know when they should come in to be checked.

Dr. Kalender-Rich said the nursing homes are taking care of the minor levels of the disease, and if it becomes more severe, patients could be sent to the hospital.

In answer to a question, Dr. Greiner said he and Dr. Kalender-Rich are on a task force that will evaluate when long-term care patients can meet with their families again. In a future phase, they may be able to hold outdoor meetings with patients and their families, the doctors said.

In a news release later Tuesday, the Unified Government Health Department officials stated that they were hoping to see the number of rolling averages of positive cases decrease. However, during the past week, those averages started to go up, which is concerning, according to Elizabeth Groenweghe, chief epidemiologist for the Health Department.

“We think people are seeing more places reopening and are so eager to get back to a sense of normalcy, that they are starting to relax on safety measures,” Dr. Greiner said in the news release. “We understand that being under public health restrictions has been difficult for everyone, but COVID-19 is still very much a threat to our community. It is still vitally important that we all take steps like wearing cloth face coverings when in public, practicing social distancing, covering coughs and sneezes, and washing hands frequently. We are also counting on area businesses to ensure that appropriate precautions are in place to protect their workers and customers.”

“At this point, we are set to stay in Phase 3 of reopening until at least June 22,” Dr. Greiner said in the news release. “If we continue to see our numbers going up, we will likely have to stay in Phase 3 for a while longer.”

Dr. Greiner added, “If we see a large enough spike, we will, unfortunately, have to consider going back to a more restrictive phase.”

The Health Department, according to a spokesman, wants to reiterate the importance of precautions to our local businesses and community members.

Checklist for businesses

Most businesses can reopen at some capacity during Phase 3, and it is the responsibility of those businesses to keep their employees and visitors as safe as possible from COVID-19. Businesses need to:

• Ensure social distancing (at least six feet) between individuals and groups who do not share a household. This may include steps such as installing partitions between patrons or employees, modifying employee work areas or work schedules, or marking spots on the floor six feet apart where people will be waiting in line.
• Ask that employees wear masks or cloth face coverings and encourage customers to do the same.
• Educate employees on how to properly wear a mask (ensuring it covers both the nose and mouth at all times).

If employees become sick, especially with COVID-19 symptoms, they should stay home except to get tested for COVID-19 at a local testing site.

Businesses can learn more in the Wyandotte County COVID-19 Business Toolkit, available at wycokck.org/COVID-19. They can also get business-related COVID-19 questions answered by calling 3-1-1.

Wearing masks or cloth face coverings

The Health Department strongly recommended that anyone over the age of 2 wear a cloth face covering while in public. Health Department staff offered tips about masks and cloth face coverings:

• It is important to wear a mask or cloth face covering appropriately. This means that it must cover both your mouth and nose.
• Do your best to not touch your mask or your face. If you need to adjust your mask, clean your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer before and after touching your mask.
• Cloth face coverings that you can make with items around your home are effective at helping reduce the spread of COVID-19. You do not need a surgical mask or other medical-grade mask, and it is best to reserve those supplies for healthcare workers.
• Learn about cloth face covering recommendations, including how to make your own mask at home, at cdc.gov/COVID19
• The primary purpose of mask is to protect others in case you may be carrying the virus, even if you don’t have symptoms. If everyone wears masks, they are all helping protect one another, and especially protect those most vulnerable to serious illness.

Wearing a mask is not a substitute for social distancing. The combination of different safety precautions is how to best stop the spread of COVID-19, according to the Health Department spokesman.

Social distancing

• Maintain a distance of at least six feet between yourself and anyone who does not live in your household.
• You may need to modify aspects of your routine to do this, such as not carpooling with people outside of your household.
• Remember to also wear a mask or cloth face covering for additional protection, even when you are six feet apart.

Social gatherings

• Under Phase 3, social gatherings are limited to no more than 45 people.
• In addition to keeping the number of people to no more than 45, social distancing of six feet or more should be maintained.

If you get sick or are exposed to COVID-19, get tested

• You should get tested for COVID-19 if:
o You develop any symptoms of COVID-19, such as:
o Fever
o Dry cough
o Shortness of breath – difficulty breathing
o Headache
o Chills
o Muscle – body aches
o Runny nose
o Sore throat
o Diarrhea
o New loss of taste or smell

Testing also is recommended for those who have been exposed to COVID-19 through close contact (within six feet for at least ten minutes) with someone who has tested positive or through association with a known outbreak.

Testing is available for free to people who live or work in Wyandotte County at multiple community locations, including the Health Department and a rotating weekly schedule of “pop-up” sites coordinated by the Wyandotte County Health Equity Task Force. Find the latest testing schedule and locations at wycokck.org/COVID-19 or by calling 3-1-1.

The pop-up testing sites on Thursday, June 18, are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Holy Name of Jesus Parish, 16 S. Iowa St., Kansas City, Kansas; and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Roswell Church of Christ, 2900 Roswell Ave., Kansas City, Kansas.

Residents may be able to spread the virus without symptoms

Local health Officials reminded Wyandotte County residents that asymptomatic spread may be possible, and that safety precautions should be taken even if they do not have symptoms.

“Even if you don’t have symptoms right now, you may still be able to infect others,” said Dr. Erin Corriveau, deputy medical officer with the Health Department. “Recently, someone from the World Health Organization mistakenly said that asymptomatic spread is unlikely, then quickly retracted the statement because there is not adequate scientific evidence to support that claim. Unfortunately, this misinformation spread widely. We are still learning more about this virus every day, and we certainly don’t have the data to back up a claim that the virus doesn’t spread without symptoms. More importantly, we do see evidence that people who develop symptoms can be infectious up to two days before their symptoms start. This is why it is so important for everyone to wear masks and practice social distancing, even if they feel well.”

For additional data and resources on COVID-19 in Wyandotte County, visit wycokck.org/COVID-19 or call 3-1-1.

To view the KU doctors’ news conference, visit https://www.facebook.com/kuhospital/videos/1439310846269479/?tn=%2Cd%2CP-R&eid=ARAVeuJ9pdoOI60HIf4dBTBpKn7_IHgWjGj7eaQTcKn2CsyfE05k9AcdP0UQ5SpnzSf4o58b_pUFzoU0

The state’s COVID-19 test page is at https://www.coronavirus.kdheks.gov/280/COVID-19-Testing

The UG’s COVID-19 information page is at https://alpha.wycokck.org/Coronavirus-COVID-19-Information.

Wyandotte County is currently under Phase 3. See covid.ks.gov.

The state plan’s frequently asked questions page is at https://covid.ks.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Reopening-FAQ_5.19.2020_Final.pdf.

Test sites are listed on the Wyandotte County website at https://wyandotte-county-covid-19-hub-unifiedgov.hub.arcgis.com/pages/what-to-do-if-you-think-you-have-covid-19.

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

Residents encouraged to continue to follow health guidelines

Kansas had 91 counties with positive COVID-19 cases, with a cumulative total of 11,419 total cases on Monday, and 245 deaths, according to the KDHE. (KDHE map)

Gov. Laura Kelly on Monday encouraged the state’s residents to continue to follow health guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Kelly thanked the residents of the state for following health guidelines during the past few months. While Kansas in general is seeing a downward trend in hospitalizations and deaths, that is not the case in 21 other states, which are experiencing increases, she said.

Most Kansans have been following the guidelines, as shown by the good trend lines in the state, she said.

“Please be mindful, this is not over,” Gov. Kelly said. She urged residents to continue to follow the advice of health experts, to wear masks, to wash hands frequently and to avoid gatherings where social distancing is not possible.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” she said. “Two hundred forty five Kansans have lost their lives to this virus. That’s far too many. A low case rate does not mean no cases.”

Until a vaccine is readily available and they have eliminated the threat of COVID-19, it’s not over, she said.

Kansas decided to let local communities decide whether to continue the Ad Astra reopening plan. Some communities, including Sedgwick County (the Wichita area), chose to stop enforcing the health guidelines on May 27, she said, and some are now experiencing increases.

“Last Friday, Sedgwick County reported 215 active cases, which is the highest number of cases the county has reported,” Gov. Kelly said. “This is not a coincidence.”

Mitigation has worked where communities have followed the guidelines, encouraged the use of masks, she said. If communities do not do this, more lives will be lost, it will halt the economy and prevent children from returning to school, she added. She said the state would continue to be guided by the data.

“You are your own preparedness,” Dr. Lee Norman, Kansas secretary of health, said. “Just because a county opens up doesn’t mean you have to change your own safety behaviors.”

Kansas saw an increase of 372 positive COVID-19 cases since Friday, according to state officials.

The state reported 11,419 positive cases on Monday, and 245 deaths, an increase of two deaths since Friday, according to Dr. Lee Norman, Kansas secretary of health.

Dr. Norman reported 165 clusters of cases in the state, 89 of which are active, which have accounted for 5,740 cases and 173 deaths.

Those clusters include four in corrections, with one not active, for 1,026 cases and seven deaths; three clusters in schools or daycares, with 10 cases; 17 clusters from gatherings, with 10 inactive, for 201 cases and 13 deaths; six clusters from group living with four inactive, resulting in 55 cases and three deaths; seven clusters in health care, with four inactive, and 57 cases; 39 clusters in long-term care, with 19 inactive, resulting in 803 cases and 131 deaths; 11 clusters in meatpacking, with one inactive, resulting in 2,939 cases and 13 deaths; and 78 clusters in private industry, with 36 inactive, resulting in 649 cases and six deaths.

Dr. Norman reported that a week ago Thursday, KDHE found out about a positive COVID-19 case at the Geary County Jail, where a member of law enforcement tested positive. The state went in and did testing of offenders and staff and found five positive cases, he said. They will go back Wednesday and test around the same number again. He said he expected to find that it has been contained, and is an example of swift work with a successful outcome.

He said the KDHE works with the local health departments, responding when they are requested to help.

On Monday the KDHE was responding to an industry where about 500 people were being tested, he said.

County totals from around the state

Wyandotte County reported 1,677 cases on the UG’s COVID-19 website on Monday.

Other county totals on Monday, according to the KDHE, included Johnson County, 1,106; Leavenworth County, 1,109; Ford County, 1,882; Finney County, 1,508; Seward County, 907; Sedgwick County, 760; Lyon County, 465; and Shawnee County, 461.

The state’s COVID-19 test page is at https://www.coronavirus.kdheks.gov/280/COVID-19-Testing

The UG’s COVID-19 information page is at https://alpha.wycokck.org/Coronavirus-COVID-19-Information.

Wyandotte County is currently under Phase 3. See covid.ks.gov.

The state plan’s frequently asked questions page is at https://covid.ks.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Reopening-FAQ_5.19.2020_Final.pdf.

Test sites are listed on the Wyandotte County website at https://wyandotte-county-covid-19-hub-unifiedgov.hub.arcgis.com/pages/what-to-do-if-you-think-you-have-covid-19.

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

KU plans to reopen campus for classes in fall

University of Kansas officials announced today they plan to resume classes in the fall, with a shortened schedule.

In a message to students, faculty and staff, Chancellor Doug Girod stated that he would like to start the fall classes on Aug. 24, and end classes before Thanksgiving. The schedule is for both the Lawrence and the Overland Park campuses.

After Thanksgiving, there would be a study week followed by final exams conducted remotely, according to the chancellor’s message. No Labor Day holiday or fall break would be in the schedule.

He also would like to move the first day of the spring semester from Jan. 19 to Feb. 1. There would be no spring break as it usually happens; instead, it would be added to the winter recess, according to the message.

The changes to the university calendar would have to be approved by the Kansas Board of Regents. Also, according to the message, plans are subject to change based on medical advice.

Changes are planned to allow more time between classes, and also to limit the density of classes. The academic day may start at 7 a.m. and end at 9 p.m., five days a week, with the day ending at 5 p.m. for most classes.

Several changes are being made to have physical distancing in residence halls and food centers, according to the Dr. Girod’s message.

In addition, KU plans testing and contact tracing through Watkins Health Services on campus, partnering with the University of Kansas Health System, Lawrence Memorial Health, the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health and Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Dr. Lee Norman, Kansas secretary of health and environment, said at a news conference on Monday that the KDHE has met with KU leadership and KU Health System representatives to discuss the plans.

“It is a daunting task, no question about it,” Dr. Norman said.

He said he believes it will be more favorable to hold classes early and then dismiss at Thanksgiving.

A testing strategy will be put in place, and there will be a lot of effort to keep social distancing and other health measures in place, he said.