With cases rising, Wyandotte County to stay in Phase 3 of reopening plan

Wyandotte County reported 2,760 positive COVID-19 cases at 1:20 p.m. Thursday, as compared to 2,688 cases at 1 p.m. Wednesday, according to the Unified Government COVID-19 website. It was an increase of 72 cases. There also were two more deaths reported from Wednesday to Thursday, for a cumulative total of 87, according to the UG COVID-19 website. (UG COVID-19 webpage)
A seven-day rolling average of positive cases in Wyandotte County showed some increase around July 1. (From UG COVID-19 webpage)

COVID-19 cases are rising in the nation, in Kansas and locally, and Wyandotte County will be staying in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan, according to Dr. Allen Greiner, chief medical officer of Wyandotte County.

The Wyandotte County Health Department gave a report on COVID-19 here during the 7 p.m. Unified Government Commission meeting on July 9. Wyandotte County has been in Phase 3 since June 8.

Dr. Greiner said at the UG meeting that they will “continue to watch the data, and if things continue the way they are now, we need to be cautious.”

Wyandotte County reported 2,760 positive COVID-19 cases at 1:20 p.m. Thursday, as compared to 2,688 cases at 1 p.m. Wednesday, according to the Unified Government COVID-19 website. It was an increase of 72 cases. There also were two more deaths reported from Wednesday to Thursday, for a cumulative total of 87, according to the UG COVID-19 website.

Dr. Erin Corriveau, deputy medical officer with the UG Health Department, said the rate of positive cases per 100,000 population in Wyandotte County recently was 1,636, much higher than surrounding counties and the Missouri side. The state of Kansas rate was 606, Johnson County was 425 and Kansas City, Missouri, was 479.

The seven-day rolling averages for positive cases hit a peak around July 1, then declined a little, but there is still an uptick in new cases, which worries them a little, she said.

COVID-19 deaths in Wyandotte County have been very low since June, according to a Health Department chart. The averages were showing less than one death per day.

The percent positivity rate, a seven-day average of positive test percentages, declined to 5.4 percent in May, then gradually has been working its way upwards to around 15.5 percent, she said.

Dr. Greiner reported that in race-specific case rates, the number of Asian American cases was high. He said the number was high because of an outbreak at the Triumph foods meatpacking plant in St. Joseph, Missouri, and the Kansas City Steak Co., where some Wyandotte County residents work.

The COVID-19 rate for African-Americans in Wyandotte County is similar, but a little higher, than the rate for whites, he said. Death rates are higher among African-Americans than other groups, and he added he would like to increase testing.

Positive case rates of Hispanics are more than twice as high than for non-Hispanics, according to a Health Department chart. Testing rates are about even for Hispanics and non-Hispanics. Dr. Greiner said he would like to see more testing of Hispanics.

Elizabeth Groenweghe, chief epidemiologist at the Health Department, said they were monitoring several outbreaks currently in Wyandotte County.

Outbreaks with new cases or that haven’t been reported here previously included Bonner Springs Nurse and Rehab Center, where there were 35 cases and the last case was reported July 6; Edwardsville Care and Rehab 5 cases, with the last case reported July 6; and Burger King, 4004 Rainbow Blvd., 6 cases, with the last case reported July 2

Also, Groenweghe listed two gathering outbreaks, including a family gathering and a gathering for a funeral. The family gathering had eight cases and the funeral had six cases, she said.

“People are starting to have more gatherings like baby showers, bachelorette parties, funerals and birthday parties,” she said. Often, a person that attended the party later tests positive for COVID-19, and others at that party or gathering could develop it later as well, she said.

Dr. Greiner said they don’t think there is a lot of foodborne illness spread from COVID-19. They think the coronavirus is spread inside meatpacking plants and food plants through aerosolized particles. It’s not a big problem for those who purchase food, but it is a problem for those who work there and may get the disease when they inhale particles in the air. He added they have to protect workers and their families.

Juliann Van Liew, UG Health Department director, said there frequently have been lines around the Health Department’s parking lot, where COVID-19 patients are tested.

In order to deal with the demand for testing, the Health Department is bringing on five medical assistants next week to ramp up its staffing capacity, she said. It also will provide a little rest for staff members who have been working outdoors in the heat.

During the past 10 days, the Health Department has tested more than 200 people, with the highest number last Monday, at 310.

The Health Department expanded its testing hours and now will give COVID-19 tests from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., she said. Before this, testing was in the afternoons. The new hours will avoid some of the harshest heat, she added.

They also are looking for other locations, she added.

Countywide, the percent positivity is about 15 percent, but at the Health Department, it’s about 25 percent, which is very high, she added. One reason it’s high is they are not testing asymptomatic people, and another reason is that there is a lot of community spread here, she said.

The Health Department also has started asking people who want tests if they live or work in Wyandotte County. They were seeing quite a lot of people from other communities who were asking for tests, she added. Now they are asking people for some form of identification, such as a driver’s license, a work badge or mail with their name and address on it.

Dr. Greiner said the local mask order went into effect on July 1, then the governor issued a mask order on July 3. Wyandotte County decided to adopt the governor’s order, with some clarification on offices. They are fine-tuning some questions about masks and day cares and sports, and will probably post it in their frequently asked questions.

He said they’re doing the same type of enforcement as the “stay-at-home” order, using education first. A fine would be possible for a second violation, according to Dr. Greiner.

They are working on extensive signs and materials to be distributed to local businesses, he added. He said it would probably take long-term communication efforts and campaigning to get people to change their behavior.

“I think we will lead the state in this effort,” Dr. Greiner said. “We can change our behavior, and I think everyone will realize they’re going to need to do that relatively soon.”

Dr. Corriveau said the numbers of hospitalized patients have stayed very stable at the University of Kansas Health System and at Providence Medical Center. However, they are seeing a slight uptick in hospitalizations on the Kansas City, Missouri, side, she said, and they are worried about spillover from those hospitals eventually.

She said they are staying in close contact with the hospitals every day, checking on capacity of intensive care unit beds and ventilators. She said the number of hospitalizations was very important, however, they haven’t had as much access to hospitalization figures for the metropolitan area as they wanted. Recently, more hospitalization numbers have become available through the Mid-America Regional Council, she said.

“We’re still going forward with this goal of not overwhelming the health system,” Dr. Corriveau said. They still talk about personal protective equipment availability, she added. The first course of action if there was a large increase of cases at area hospitals would be to cut off accepting transfers into those hospitals, and they may think about decreasing the amount of elective surgeries, but currently, they’re not there yet, she said.

Hospitals report rising numbers of cases

Some hospitals reported rising numbers of cases at a video news conference at 8 a.m. Thursday sponsored by the University of Kansas Health System.

Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri, has seen a significant uptick in patients, according to Dr. Mark Steele, executive chief clinical officer. There were 24 patients in the hospital Thursday morning, including eight in the intensive care unit and four on ventilators, he said.

Also, he said they are seeing an increase in younger people requiring hospitalization. About a third of the patients are under 50, he added. Two were in their 20s and four were in their 30s, he said. One intubated patient was in the mid-30s and one was in the mid-40s.

“In an effort to help prevent transmission of the virus, we were recently back out in the community handing out face masks,” Dr. Steele said. “We’re very passionate about folks wearing face masks to help protect themselves and protect others.”

Up to 35 percent of the patients with COVID-19 may have no symptoms, and over half the cases may result from exposure to asymptomatic persons, he said. This really highlights the need to wear masks and social distance, he added.

Dr. Larry Botts, chief medical officer at Advent Health – Shawnee MIssion, said they were pretty fortunate last week, and they currently have nine COVID-19 inpatients with one in the ICU and none on ventilators. They had a tiny surge about a week and a half ago, he added.

The outpatient positivity rate has gone up, however, he said. It was mostly in the younger population, he added. That’s probably why they are not seeing as many inpatients, and hospitalizations haven’t gone up.

They went from a 4 to 5 percent positivity rate a few weeks ago, and last week it was up to 12 percent and still increasing, he added. They had an increase in their outpatient testing, he added. Asymptomatic patients being tested before procedures have a rate that has remained fairly low, he added.

Dr. Botts said he recommended wearing masks, and they need to keep stressing that.

Dr. Raghu Adiga, chief medical officer of Liberty Hospital in Missouri, said things have changed at his hospital. Most of their COVID-19 cases a few weeks ago came from a nearby long-term care facility, but even that has changed, he added. Currently they have 14 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, two in ICU and two intubated.

Eight of the 14 were less than 60 years old, five were less than 50 and three were in their 30s, he said. Nine were from the community, he added. A couple of the patients in their 30s had no underlying problems, he added.

This really speaks to the need for distancing and wearing masks, Dr. Adiga said. People may have let their guards down, and the numbers are going up.

He said he believes Liberty Hospital has enough capacity. He also said one of the long-term care homes in that area is considering converting into a home for people with COVID-19.

“We’ve been the busiest we’ve been with COVID in the last few months,” he said.

KU Health System reported 21 patients on Thursday morning, with nine in the ICU and three on the ventilator, Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at KU Health System, said. The numbers seem to be ticking up, he said.

Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at KU Health System, said they were ticking up, but still stable in the low 20 range.

Dr. Hawkinson said he feels that COVID-19 is not yet at a peak, but is in an expansion mode. They won’t really know that until there is full testing, he added.

Dr. Stites said they bent the curve before, and opening up doesn’t mean being reckless. They’re not opening up as in the past; now people should make sure they wear a mask, he said.

To see the UG Health Department COVID-19 report at the UG Commission meeting, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsdvbS7nlw8.

The KU doctors’ news conference is at https://www.facebook.com/kuhospital/videos/383833145920024.

The governor’s executive order on masks is at https://governor.kansas.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/20200702093130003.pdf.

The governor’s news release on the mask order is at https://governor.kansas.gov/governor-laura-kelly-signs-executive-order-mandating-masks-in-public-spaces/.

The Wyandotte County mask order is at https://www.wycokck.org/WycoKCK/media/Health-Department/Documents/Communicable%20Disease/COVID19/06272020LocalHealthOfficerOrderRegardingMasks.pdf.

A news release on the Wyandotte County mask order is at https://www.wycokck.org/WycoKCK/media/Health-Department/Documents/Communicable%20Disease/COVID19/06272020PressReleaseLHORequiresPublicToWearMasks.pdf.

Wyandotte County now has posted an application for nonprofits, government agencies, school districts and businesses in Wyandotte County that want to apply for CARES Act funding. The web address is https://us.openforms.com/Form/6273fe80-8bba-4c18-b4e7-e551096d8a83.

For information on how to make an easy no-sew mask, visit http://wyandottedaily.com/how-to-make-a-no-sew-cloth-mask/.

For more information about COVID-19 testing, including other sites, visit https://wyandotte-county-covid-19-hub-unifiedgov.hub.arcgis.com/pages/what-to-do-if-you-think-you-have-covid-19. Residents also may call 3-1-1 for more information about testing.

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

Residents may visit the UG COVID-19 website at https://alpha.wycokck.org/Coronavirus-COVID-19-Information or call 311 for more 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.

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

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