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COVID-19 cases on rise in Osage County; Delta variant appears to drive new surge in U.S.

Wear a mask, social distance, get vaccinated

LYNDON, Kan. – The Osage County Health Department reported yesterday the number of COVID-19 cases has been increasing steadily in the county during July.

On July 28, 2021, OCHD reported there were 38 active positive cases in Osage County, and five of those cases were found to be of the Delta variant through sequencing testing. A health department social media post reported that up to 80 percent of new positive cases in the Midwest are thought to be caused by the Delta variant. On July 26, the health department reported 42 active cases in the county, but none were known to be of the Delta variant, which requires special testing to detect.

OCHD has warned of an increase of cases since the first week of July, with 15 active cases reported July 15, and 26 active cases reported July 20. Kansas Department of Health and Environment data shows Osage County gained 68 positive cases from July 2 to July 27.

With the increased presence of the Delta variant in Kansas, free COVID-19 vaccine and testing clinics are scheduled to continue across the state. The CDC has issued new mask advisories, once again recommending people indoors wear masks, especially unvaccinated people. CDC reports the Delta variant is twice as infectious as the B.117 variant, which was previously a dominant strain.

KDHE reports the new variant appears to be spreading most quickly in communities that have the lowest vaccination rates. KDHE said nearly all patients who died of COVID-19 in the last few weeks were unvaccinated.

“It’s essential for Kansans to stay safe by continuing to social distance, wear masks while around unvaccinated people, and get tested if you have symptoms or have possibly been exposed to someone with COVID-19,” a KDHE advisory said.

OCHD recommended that everyone observe safety practices including hand washing, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, getting vaccinated, and wearing a mask when unable to social distance.

OCHD notes that everyone of age is encouraged to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and although there are breakthrough cases, mostly due to new variants, vaccinated people who become ill with COVID-19 report less severe symptoms.

OCHD offers Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, but does not have Pfizer, which is the only one currently available for children 12-17 years old. To make an appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, call the Osage County Health Department at 785-828-3117.

One year ago today, the OCHD announced the temporary closure of the Osage County Senior Center due to it being considered as a possible cluster site for COVID-19, with three cases associated with attendance at the center. During the month of July 2020, Osage County gained 24 cases, going from 15 to 39 known cases since the pandemic began. At the time, Osage County was in its fourth week of “reopening” after the initial pandemic had surged throughout the U.S. since early in 2020.

June 30 deadline to renew Kansas credentials expired March 2020-March 2021

TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansans with a driver’s license or identification card that expired between March 12, 2020, and March 30, 2021, have until June 30 to renew those credentials. This is due to the COVID-19 extension for these credentials expiring with the passage of Senate Bill 127.

In April, the Kansas Department of Revenue’s Division of Vehicles sent out more than 55,700 postcards to Kansans who have not renewed their license or identification card and would be affected by the deadline. As of June 1, there are still 45,000 Kansans needing to renew their credentials.

“In addition to ending the COVID-19 extension for expired credentials, the legislation expanded the age range on mobile renewals,” said David Harper, Division of Vehicles director. “Summer is typically a busy time for our offices as teen drivers come in for the first time. Because of that, we are heavily encouraging the use of iKan, the Department’s online driver’s license renewal system.”

Mobile renewals are open to Kansans who are 21 to 64 years old, have had a vision test within the past year, and their license is up to one year before or after expiration.

Kansas adopts CDC guidance on mask-wearing; vaccine now available for 12 and older

TOPEKA, Kan. –  Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly announced last week that Kansas will follow the CDC’s latest guidance regarding individuals who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

“Effective immediately, Kansas will adopt the CDC’s latest guidance that fully-vaccinated Kansans are no longer required to wear masks indoors or outdoors or physically distance, except in circumstances such as those required by businesses, public transportation, or health care facilities,” Kelly said. “Should fully-vaccinated Kansans feel more comfortable wearing a mask, they are welcome to continue doing so.”

Also announced last week was that due to increasing evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for young people, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will now be available to those ages 12 and older in Kansas.

“Health experts’ thorough, deliberate review process demonstrates that safety continues to be the number one priority in vaccine approval – and my administration is confident that opening the vaccine to young Kansans is the right move,” Kelly said. “I encourage all eligible Kansans to roll up their sleeves and do their part to ensure we can continue getting back to work, back to school, and back to normal.”

“This is an incredible step forward in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Lee Norman, KDHE Secretary. “We are now able to protect our younger populations against this deadly disease.”

The announcements follow last week’s expansion of the emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. The FSA issued the original emergency use authorization Dec. 11, 2020, for individuals ages 16 and older. Kansas providers should now begin opening their vaccine supply to people age 12 or older. Those under 18 need written parental consent for vaccination.

Kansas pauses Johnson & Johnson vaccine administration

TOPEKA, Kan. – The Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced that Kansas will pause administration of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) COVID-19 vaccine following an announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration this morning. There are reports of six recipients in the United States who developed a rare disorder involving blood clots within about two weeks of vaccination. No known cases have been reported in Kansas to date.

“Just as important as getting vaccines into arms is making sure those vaccines are safe,” Gov. Laura Kelly said. “While this appears to have affected six people in the nearly seven million doses administered, out of an abundance of caution, Kansas will suspend Johnson & Johnson until the CDC and FDA clear it for use again. In the meantime, we anticipate our shipments of Pfizer and Moderna to continue and we will build on the one-third of Kansans who have already received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

The federal government will further study links between the vaccine and the rare blood clotting disorder. An emergency meeting of the CDC’s advisory committee has been scheduled for Wednesday.

KDHE asks providers with Johnson & Johnson vaccine to pause administration of the vaccine immediately and to place the supply into storage while material is reviewed. After KDHE has reviewed the findings from the federal government, further guidance will be given to providers on next steps.

Those who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should contact their health care provider if they have any symptoms and report any illness to the VAERS Reporting System, vaers.hhs.gov.

The week of April 19, 2021, Kansas is anticipated to receive the following doses: 39,780 Pfizer Prime, 38,610 Pfizer Boost, 29,000 Moderna Prime, 27,800 Moderna Boost.


Joint statement from CDC and FDA

As of April 12, more than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in the U.S. CDC and FDA are reviewing data involving six reported U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the J&J vaccine. In these cases, a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis was seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia). All six cases occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination. Treatment of this specific type of blood clot is different from the treatment that might typically be administered. Usually, an anticoagulant drug called heparin is used to treat blood clots. In this setting, administration of heparin may be dangerous, and alternative treatments need to be given.

CDC will convene a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Wednesday to further review these cases and assess their potential significance. FDA will review that analysis as it also investigates these cases. Until that process is complete, we are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution. This is important, in part, to ensure that the health care provider community is aware of the potential for these adverse events and can plan for proper recognition and management due to the unique treatment required with this type of blood clot.

KDHE issues social guidelines for Kansans who are vaccinated

TOPEKA, Kan. – In conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance issued Monday for those who have been vaccinated, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is issuing similar guidance in Kansas.

Two weeks after Kansans receive their completed vaccination (two weeks after the second dose for Pfizer and Moderna, two weeks after the single dose for Johnson & Johnson), Kansans may begin to gather in their private homes with other fully vaccinated people, in small groups, without masks or social distancing.

The guidance also allows for vaccinated people to gather in private homes with unvaccinated people so long as the unvaccinated people are from a single household and are at low risk for developing severe disease.

“These changes are an important step in moving forward,” said Dr. Lee Norman, KDHE Secretary. “This will allow grandparents to socialize with families, friends and neighbors to gather.”

While private home guidance has changed for those who are fully vaccinated, public health measures in public still apply to everyone, including those vaccinated. It is advised to:

  • Wear a mask.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others.
  • Avoid crowds.
  • Avoid poorly ventilated spaces.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.

“Thank you for continuing to keep your fellow Kansans safe,” Norman said.

UK COVID-19 variant identified in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. – A CDC emerging variant of COVID-19, which has been found in 33 U.S. states, was identified in Kansas Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. A Kansas resident in Ellis County was found to have the United Kingdom, or UK, variant known as B.1.1.7. A case investigation is being conducted to determine how the person became infected with this particular variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as if others may have been exposed. No further details are being released concerning the patient, including demographics.

The variant was determined through the whole genome sequencing (WGS) conducted through the laboratories at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE).

“This finding does not change our public health recommendations,” said Dr. Norman, KDHE Secretary. “We continue to encourage people to take the appropriate precautions: follow isolation and quarantine recommendations, practice physical distancing, wearing masks, good hygiene, staying home if ill and getting the vaccine if you are able to, once the supply is sufficient.”

The variant was first reported in the U.S. at the end of December 2020. Evidence from the U.K. indicates this variant spreads much more quickly through the population and, given that fact, may rapidly increase the number of hospitalizations and deaths. More studies are needed to confirm this finding.

Representatives face new challenges to keep people safe while legislating

By State Rep. Blaine Finch
Kansas House Speaker Pro Tem

Greetings from a snowy statehouse this week. The legislature works in a two year cycle called a biennium. The first week of a new biennium always sees a flurry of new bills being filed and committees working to get organized with new members, new bills and new ideas.

This year in addition to the normal challenges we are dealing with the added requirement of trying to keep a large number of people in a single place safe during a pandemic. The House has worked with the health professionals at the KU Medical Center to reconfigure the House floor to allow people to socially distance, encouraged the use of masks, handwashing, sanitizer and in a first, made COVID testing widely available. It is different to see representatives seated in the gallery of the House chamber, and to not have the usual visitors to our beautiful capitol building. I look forward to the day when we see school buses back in the north drive and have a building full of people sharing their ideas to make our state better.

This week the Governor delivered her State of the State address. It was a first in that it was delivered somewhere other than the House Chamber. I was dismayed to hear her say she wanted to try yet again to refinance the state’s pension system before the KPERS board has recommended doing so. This saves short term money but pushes debt out 25 years and burdens future generations for the costs of today. We can do better than that.

This week the Senate took up its version of the bill addressing the Kansas Emergency Management Act. You may remember that last year’s House Bill 2016 shared control between state and local authorities to craft targeted solutions to the pandemic instead of imposing a one size fits all solution. The bill also allowed for increased use of telehealth to provide remote health care; made necessary changes to our laws to increase the availability of federal unemployment assistance; and added checks and balances to our statues so no one person had the power to close businesses, schools, or restrict travel. Those provisions expire on January 26 and both the House and Senate are moving swiftly to pass a bill to renew those changes and protections while still allowing for a strong, flexible, and proper response to the pandemic.

I look forward to keeping you updated as the session goes along and wish you and your families good health. If you ever have a question or concern, please feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] or at 785-291-3500.

Commissioners exempt Osage County from governor’s statewide mask mandate

County health department reports 120 active cases

LYNDON, Kan. – In a social media post this afternoon, the Osage County Health Department announced that Osage County commissioners had exempted the county from Gov. Laura Kelly’s statewide emergency order issued last week requiring Kansans to wear face masks in most public situations. Kelly had issued the order due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases statewide, saying Kansas is facing a crisis with recent “worrying” spikes in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and stretching the healthcare system’s ability to handle the influx of patients.

Kelly’s order noted that “wearing a face covering in public is the easiest and most effective way to protect each other, ease the burden on our overburdened healthcare system, and help keep our businesses open and our economy running …”

Kelly’s order gave county commissioners until this week to decide to comply with the order, adopt their own order, or exempt the county from the order.

In a resolution approved at today’s meeting of the Osage County Commission, and posted on Osage County’s website, county commissioners ordered Osage County exempt from the governor’s order, citing three reasons:

“Enforcement of the governor’s executive order mandating masks would be difficult, if not impossible and would be an unreasonable strain on county resources such as PPE and local law enforcement.

“Broad ranging recommendations on safety precautions to fight the potential spread of COVID-19 better serve the public’s overall interests than governmental mandates.

“Opting out of the governor’s statewide executive order gives Osage County flexibility going forward to make recommendations or mandates, if necessary, that best protect the health and safety of Osage County, Kansas.”

While opting out of the governor’s mask order, the commissioners adopted a mask protocol for the county, signed by Osage County Health Director Jackie Patterson, and Fred Diver, commissioner and county board of health chairman.

The county’s mask protocol does not mandate the use of masks, “but recognizes the significance of utilizing them in order to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 in the population. Therefore, masks are not mandated, but are strongly recommended in Osage County whenever in any public space indoors, or outside when at least six feet social distancing cannot be maintained.”

The Osage County Board of Health’s protocol also echoes the commissioners’ reluctance to enforce a mask mandate. “While we recognize the significance of face coverings in mitigating the transmission of COVID-19, we find a mandate inherently unenforceable at the county level,” the health board protocol says.

Safe housing options available for those impacted by COVID-19

To help Kansans protect their families and household members, the state is working to provide safe housing options for those affected by COVID-19. Non-congregate sheltering is an option for individuals in multiple communities in the state. Sheltering is available for those who cannot safely isolate or quarantine in their homes and have tested positive for COVID-19, those who have been exposed to someone who has tested positive, and those living and working in at-risk or congregate settings.

“The most effective way to slow the spread of the virus is to isolate or quarantine yourself away from others in your household,” said Devan Tucking, human services branch director, Kansas Division of Emergency Management. “These non-congregate shelter options are being provided because we know it is not always possible to isolate or quarantine someone in a single-family residence where people must share a kitchen, a bathroom, laundry room and other spaces.”

Non-congregate shelters are provided in coordination with the Kansas Department of Children and Families, Kansas Division of Emergency Management and local emergency management and public health departments.

At this time shelters are located in the following locations:

  • Ford County, Dodge City
  • Johnson County, Gardner
  • Leavenworth County, Lansing
  • Lyon County, Emporia
  • Saline County, Saline
  • Seward County, Liberal
  • Wyandotte County, Kansas City

The shelter provides free housing, three meals a day and snacks, laundry service, and a cleaning service to provide a safe shelter to avoid exposing households to the COVID-19 virus and help stop the spread of the virus.

COVID-19 infects more than 100 in Osage County in one week

Around 100 new cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in Osage County in the last week, as Kansas reports record numbers of confirmed cases daily across the state.

As reported by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment today, Nov. 13, 2020, Osage County now has had 306 confirmed cases since the pandemic began. The Osage County Health Department confirmed that five people in Osage County have died from the virus as of Nov. 5, and that day marked 182 cases tallied in the county, including 25 active positive cases and 157 recovered cases. KDHE reported Osage County’s total cases at 206 on Nov. 5, with 100 new cases diagnosed in the last week.

OCHD reported Nov. 10 that the department would not be issuing case counts for the county this week due to being “very busy and short staffed,” while KDHE reported 25 new cases that day – the highest number of diagnosed cases in one day for the county since the pandemic began in March. Last month, the most new cases recorded in a day were six on Oct. 17; the record was broken on Nov. 3 with seven cases recorded; then Nov. 5, 10 cases; Nov. 10, 25 cases; Nov. 11, 16 cases; and yesterday recorded a dozen more.

Osage County is under no health orders regarding COVID-19, as the Osage County commissioners took action in July to reject Gov. Laura Kelly’s plan to mandate mask wearing in public spaces statewide and other measures. The Osage County Board of Health’s reasoning for rejecting the governor’s mandates was the few COVID-19 cases in Osage County at the time and little evidence of community spread of the disease, and that enforcement of the mandate would be difficult.

According to state data, Osage County’s coronavirus infection rate remains lower than the state average, with Osage County at 19.19 cases per thousand people, and the state at 39.65 cases per thousand.

When the pandemic began, county officials implemented temperature screening of visitors and employees at the Osage County Courthouse, but that precaution was later abandoned. Several schools or activities have been shut down for extended periods for quarantine purposes since the school year began. In July, the Osage County Senior Center was closed due to being a possible cluster site, but it has since reopened. No clusters have been publicly reported in Osage County. In October, the Osage County Jail reported that a person in custody had tested positive for the virus, but no other jail residents or staff were reported as infected.

Oct. 13, the health department reported the first death in the county from the virus; the person had died in September. Since then four more Osage County deaths have been attributed to COVID-19. One month ago, OCHD reported there had been a total of 124 positive cases recorded in the county since the pandemic began. As of Nov. 5 in Osage County, 2,633 negative tests results had been recorded.

Osage County relaxes quarantine rules for mask wearers

The rate of COVID-19 infection in Osage County has increased to about two per day during the month of October, and as of today, Oct. 23, 2020, Kansas Department of Health and Environment confirmed that one percent of Osage County’s population has been infected by the disease since March. In its Friday report, KDHE showed Osage County has had 160 confirmed infections since the pandemic began.

While Kansas continues to be designated as a red zone by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, which means 100 new cases per 100,000 people per week, Osage County has taken steps to relax its quarantine rules regarding the use of masks.

In July, the Osage County Commission chose to exempt the county from Gov. Laura Kelly’s mask order and other measures, and instead has been managing the emergency locally under guidelines of the local board of health.

Earlier this week, the Osage County Health Department issued new guidelines for the county regulating when quarantine is ordered for people in contact with someone who has been confirmed as COVID-19 infected. In a public notice, the department said people in Osage County who are determined to be in close contact of a person who has a confirmed positive test for COVID-19 may be exempted from quarantine if the positive individual and the close contact were wearing masks at the time of the exposure.

The notice said data collected in Osage County by the health department has noted that no individuals who have been quarantined due to close contact with a confirmed positive case have tested positive for COVID-19, with the exception of household contacts.

The notice outlined the effect of quarantine on people’s lives: “Quarantines greatly affect the livelihood, mental health, and well-being of our citizens. In particular, our youth and families have been adversely affected by quarantines that have forced some schools to close, parents to stay home from work, and important social and sporting events to be cancelled. Without data that supports the need for these quarantines, it is in the best interest of our citizens to review our process.

“When both parties wear a properly fitting mask that has at least two layers (as in school settings currently), data shows that the risk for a close contact to contract COVID-19 is minimal. Osage County is not implementing a mask mandate, but rather asking that when citizens are out in public, especially at any event in which there are many people (such as school, sports activities, riding public transit, or attending social events), that they wear a mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is mainly aimed at schools, where students and staff already wear masks and where quarantines have already caused significant disruption to important life activities. However, this will also benefit anyone else attending any public gathering, attending work, or other social events Osage County.”

The notice said there might still be a need to quarantine an individual due to high risk circumstances even when both parties were wearing a mask.

As of today, KDHE reports that Osage County has had 160 confirmed COVID-19 cases since March 23. OCHD reports there are currently 18 people in the county with active infections, with one of those in the hospital, and 62 people quarantined as of Thursday. Two people from Osage County have been reported as dying from the disease. KDHE reports that 2,543 negative test results have been recorded in the county.

On Sept. 30, KDHE reported Osage County had tallied 114 cases. From July through September, the county added about one new case a day. But from Oct. 1 to today’s total of 160, cases increased at a rate of two per day. Osage County’s population is 15,949.

Statewide there have been 76,230 positive cases, 975 people have died, and 3,584 people have been hospitalized due to the virus.

COVID-19 takes life of Osage County resident

In its latest COVID-19 update, the Osage County Health Department has reported one death in the county has been attributed to the virus.

In a social media post Oct. 13, 2020, the health department said, “There has been a death attributed in part to COVID-19 in a patient from Osage County. This patient passed away last month, and our health department was just notified of the ruling. We are not able to release any other info at this time. Thank you for understanding.”

In today’s COVID-19 update, the department reported that Osage County currently has 11 active cases of the virus, 61 people quarantined, one patient hospitalized, and 113 recovered cases. The department reported that since testing began, the county has tallied 2,248 negative test results.

County officials confirm COVID-19 case at the Osage County Jail

The Osage County Sheriff’s Office reported this afternoon in a social media post there has been one confirmed case of COVID-19 in a resident of the Osage County Jail.

The post said testing for all residents and staff is scheduled to begin tomorrow, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020.

The Osage County Jail has been in consultation with officials from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment on next steps to address these circumstances. As a result of the consultation with KDHE, the following steps were implemented:

  • The patient with the confirmed case was previously quarantined and will remain quarantined for the next 14 days and will be tested weekly.
  • KDHE will test staff and inmates weekly.
  • Osage County will remain diligent in monitoring other staff and residents for symptoms.

The Osage County Sheriff’s Office reported it is working closely with KDHE, Osage County Health Department, and Osage County Emergency Management to make sure Osage County Jail facility remains safe for its employees and residents.

Governor announces personal protective equipment program for Kansas businesses

TOPEKA, Kan. – Governor Laura Kelly today announced that the Kansas Division of Emergency Management has launched a new Business PPE Stopgap program, which provides personal protective equipment to businesses experiencing delays in purchased equipment.

“Businesses in our state have experienced immense challenges since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and they need our support,” Kelly said. “By making sure Kansas business owners have access to the necessary protective equipment when they need it, they can not only protect their employees and customers but also make sure they can stay open for business.” 

Governor encourages flu shots to stay healthy, decrease burden on health care system

TOPEKA, Kan. – Gov. Laura Kelly today, after receiving her flu shot from a Walgreens representative, emphasized that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now more important than ever for all Kansans to get a flu shot.

“Increased flu-related visits to the hospital present challenges for our health care system every year – but will be particularly difficult to cope with while we are in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic,” Kelly said. “I encourage all Kansans to receive a flu shot and protect the health and safety of our communities, while also decreasing the burden on our health care workers, freeing them up to treat patients who have contracted COVID-19.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 4.4 million influenza illnesses during the 2018-2019 flu season, and stopped 3,500 flu-related deaths.

Kelly also expressed her appreciation for all frontline workers issuing flu shots this year.

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