Johnson County mayors review COVID protocols as cases rise and schools close

JOHNSON COUNTY, Kansas – Officials from the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment (JCDHE) met virtually with county mayors on Friday morning 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 Dicky. Mission Hills

Rick Walker, De Soto

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

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

About eight percent (310 people) of the county’s workforce are currently in quarantine or isolation.

COVID cases in the community

JCDHE director Dr Sanmi Areola said that over the past few weeks infections had been driven by omicron variant.

“Because hospital measures tend to delay infections by three to four weeks, in the next few weeks we’re going to start 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’s positivity rate was approximately 30%.

Elizabeth Holzschuh, director of epidemiology for JCDHE, said the Mid-America Regional Council’s (MARC) COVID hospitalization data dashboard can provide additional information about regional hospital capacity.

“Our data infrastructure between us [JCDHE] and our hospitals are not what they should be from a public health perspective. We still rely heavily on faxes and emails and we don’t have automated data that comes directly to us from our hospitals to flag inpatients,” Holzschuh said.

According to MARC dashboard, On Thursday, Johnson County hospitals showed 11% availability for adult intensive care beds. Holzschuh said it was considered a crisis if hospitals had less than 10% availability.

“When hospitals are overwhelmed, it’s not just about taking care of COVID patients, it’s about taking care of patients who have car accidents or have heart attacks or strokes. It’s about being able to put people in beds that need them and having enough staff to look after them,” Holzschuh said.

COVID-19 in area schools

JCDHE Deputy Director Charlie Hunt said some areas schools began to cancel classes due to illness.

“We are now seeing a higher percentage of cases in children than at the start of the pandemic. It has a substantial impact on schools,” Hunt said.

While the county’s current mandate requires masking for all students through grade 6, many area school districts also have a tiered mitigation strategy in place that would require masking if infection rates exceed a set threshold.

Hunt said Wednesday that high schools in Blue Valley School District, De Soto School District, Olathe School District and Shawnee Mission School District have reinstated masking requirements.

COVID test

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

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

Mandates of masks

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

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

Eilert said when the previous countywide mask mandate was in place, it was up to each city to apply it.

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

Eilert said he didn’t think there was enough support to properly implement a new mandate.

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