JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. — Friday morning, officials from the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment (JCDHE) met virtually with county mayors to review data on COVID-19 infection rates and hospitalizations. 

Mayors from 11 cities participated in the call including: 

Bob Pape, Merriam 

Sollie Flora, Mission

Curt Skoog, Overland Park 

Mike Kelly, Roeland Park 

Eric Mikkelson, Prairie Village 

Mike Boehm, Lenexa

Melanie Hepperly, Fairway 

Todd Winters, Gardner 

Peggy Dunn, Leawood 

David Dickey. Mission Hills

Rick Walker, De Soto 

Johnson County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson said of the roughly 4,000 county employees 1,208 COVID cases have been reported since the start of the pandemic.

“What is a little alarming is 25% of those cases have been detected just since the new year, and a third of those [cases] since Christmas,” Ferguson said.

Roughly eight percent (310 people) of the county workforce is currently in quarantine or isolation.  

COVID cases in the community 

JCDHE Director Dr. Sanmi Areola said in the last few weeks infections have been driven by the omicron variant.

“Because hospital metrics tend to lag infections by three to four weeks, in the next few weeks we are going to begin to see some of the consequences of the high number of omicron infections that we have,” Areola said.  

According to the Johnson County COVID-19 Dashboard, as of Friday, Jan. 14, the county positivity rate was approximately 30%. 

Elizabeth Holzschuh, Director of Epidemiology for JCDHE, said the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) COVID hospitalization data dashboard can provide additional information on regional hospital capacity. 

“Our data infrastructure between us [JCDHE] and our hospitals is not what it should be from a public health standpoint. We still rely heavily on faxes and emails and we don’t have automated data that comes directly from our hospitals to us to report patients who are hospitalized,”Holzschuh said.   

According to the MARC dashboard, as of Thursday Johnson County hospitals showed an 11% availability for adult ICU beds. Holzschuh said it’s considered a crisis if hospitals have availability below 10 percent. 

“When hospitals are overwhelmed it’s not just about taking care of COVID patients, its about taking care of those patients who get into car accidents or have a heart attack or have a stroke. It’s about being able to get people into beds that need it as well as having enough staff to take care of them,” Holzschuh said. 

COVID-19 in area schools 

JCDHE deputy director Charlie Hunt said some area schools have started canceling classes due to illness. 

“We are now seeing a higher percentage of cases among children than we did earlier in the pandemic. This is having a substantial impact on the schools,” Hunt said. 

While the current county mandate requires masking for all students through 6th grade, many of the area school districts also put a tiered mitigation strategy in place that would require masking if infection rates went beyond a set threshold.

Hunt said as of Wednesday, secondary schools in the Blue Valley School District, De Soto School District, Olathe School District and Shawnee Mission School District had put masking requirements back in place. 

COVID Testing 

Testing sites at the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood and Johnson County Community College (JCCC) will expand testing hours. Testing will now be available by appointment from 7a.m.- 6p.m., Monday through Saturday. 

Hunt said the county intends to launch a new test site at Shawnee Mission Park next week. Roeland Park Mike Kelly requested the county consider bringing additional testing resources to residents who live near the I-435 loop. 

Mask mandates 

In the absence of a county-wide mask mandate, the cities of Roeland Park, Prairie Village, Mission and Fairway have issued indoor mask mandates that will be in effect through mid-February. 

During the forum Mission Mayor Sollie Flora asked County Commission Chair Ed Eilert why a county-wide mask mandate has not been put in place.

Eilert said when the previous county-wide mask mandate was in place it was up to individual cities to enforce it. 

“During that earlier period we were dependent upon the cities to enforce that county requirement. We had six or seven cities which did not volunteer to enforce that requirement,” Eilert said.

Eilert said he doesn’t feel there is enough support to properly enforce a new mandate. 

“With vaccination rate as high as it is, and with the inability to enforce a mask requirement, the decision was that putting a requirement in place that could not be enforced would not be effective at all,” Eilert said.