KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The number of COVID-19 cases are beginning to increase across certain areas of the Kansas City metro, and in all regions of the country, according to experts.

While the increase is nothing like the omicron surge, the Johnson County Health Department said it’s seeing an increase of COVID-19 clusters at businesses, daycares, and schools.

The Shawnee Mission School Board plans to hold a special meeting Monday evening to discuss masks in schools again.

This all comes as a new variant spreads in northeastern states. Epidemiologists report the BA.2 variant is causing case totals to rise slightly in Europe, and typically, trends like that one hit the United States a few weeks later. 

Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of the Johnson County Health Department, said his county has a positivity rate near 7% as of Friday. That total isn’t high by pandemic standards, but it was roughly 3% a few weeks ago.

But hospitals in the metro aren’t seeing an uptick in ICU patients. In fact, Liberty Hospital recently venerated having zero COVID ICU patients.

Even with hospitalization rates currently being some of the lowest of the pandemic, experts warn the numbers likely don’t tell the complete COVID-19 story in the KC metro.

The reason for the change could be in-home testing, where positive cases aren’t always reported.

“It’s a murky time for data. A lot of people aren’t getting tested in a way that we can see. They are performing those home-based tests that don’t get reported to the state or federal government,” Amber Schmidtke, chair of Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at The University of Saint Mary, said during a COVID-19 update provided by the University of Kansas Health System.

“We also have a challenge where the government is no longer paying for the free testing for the poor and uninsured, and so it’s possible that we aren’t seeing a complete picture right now.”

Since at-home testing relies on people self-reporting their results, doctors and other health experts say while part of the metro is seeing slight increases, the cases are probably much higher than what we realize.

They’re now relying on information from other sources.

“We’re in a place where we don’t totally know what’s going on, and that’s why we often have to look at proxy data. Things like wastewater surveillance testing,” Schmidtke said.

Wastewater testing also won’t provide a complete picture of COVID-19 in the U.S. because some states don’t have any testing sites. Missouri is one of the exceptions. It has a network that tests wastewater representing about 50% of the population.

A lab at the University of Missouri tests the water for the entire state.

The lab is also responsible for testing sewershed for New York City, one area in the Northeast part of the country that is seeing a surge in cases right now. The good news is that tests show one big difference between what’s happening in the Northeast and the Midwest right now.

“One difference I can point out is there is a new sublineage of BA.2 that is becoming very prevalent in the Northeast which is BA12.1. It’s 15% patient sequences right now in New York, but if it’s 15% now that means its probably actually considerably higher because it’s been steadily going up for the last three weeks,” Dr. Marc Johnson, Lead Researcher, University of Missouri, said.

No matter what, BA.2 is still something local doctors intend to monitor. 

“Here in the Midwest, it’s estimated about 73% of cases are are BA.2. Across the country, it’s over 90% — or close to 90%,” said Dr. Mark Steele, executive chief clinical officer with University Health,. “We know that BA.2 is a little more transmissible, more infectious and so, the fact this is happening is not a big surprise to me.”

So what does that all mean? Is Kansas City on the verge of another surge?

“We’ll just kinda have to see. Hopefully this doesn’t come to the Midwest, but I’ve learned to never put COVID-19 in a box. We’ve been surprised multiple times about what it can do, and so I think it’s important for all of us to be careful,” Schmidtke said.

The Johnson County Health Department said being careful means taking precautions, including wearing a mask when around a large crowd and staying up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters.