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Updated Friday

County’s skyrocketing COVID totals far exceed state averages

Staff writer

With vaccination rates lagging, few wearing masks, and sports continuing even while classes are canceled, Marion County’s skyrocketing COVID-19 infection rate continues to soar well above state averages.

New data released at 12:30 p.m. Friday says fully one-third of Marion County residents have come down with COVID since the pandemic began.

The county’s 33.53% COVID infection rate is more than 10 points higher than the state’s 23.19% rate.

Just a week ago, there was only a 1.5 point difference between state and county rates.

During that week, county infection rates have shattered all previous records.

As of 11 a.m. Thursday, despite isolation periods recently cut in half, more than 100 new patients had been added to the record number of county residents under isolation orders because of active cases of COVID-19.

A total of 465 active cases — one out of every 25 residents in the county — were reported. That’s with 366 cases just three days earlier.

Daily reports of new cases have broken last year’s record for eight out of 10 consecutive days, and totals for most of those days still aren’t complete.

The daily record, which had been 18 through Nov. 28, is now 51, set Tuesday.

For the week that ended Jan. 16, the county recorded 191 new cases compared with just 62 during the same period a year earlier, in what at the time had been thought to be the peak period for COVID infection.

Since Nov. 1, a total of 1,012 people — 8.6% of the population of Marion County — have been diagnosed with COVID, and these numbers significantly understate the actual infection rate.

Because of delays in reporting, Kansas Department of Health and Environment typically revises daily totals upward for as many as 14 days after initially reporting them.

For example, what had been reported in Wednesday’s newspaper as a single-day record of 33 on Jan. 11 was revised Friday to be 37. The record 51 new cases reported for this Tuesday is likely to be subject to similar upward revision in coming days.

Bad as these numbers are, they do not include cases diagnosed with newly available home tests. County health officials confirm that they have never once been notified of a COVID case confirmed with a home test.

Just three days into the week that will end Sunday, and with many cases yet to be tallied, the county already has tripled last year’s total for the same period, reporting 131 cases so far during a week that last year saw only 48 for the entire week.

Despite the huge number of new cases, Hillsboro schools announced Friday that they no longer would be notifying parents if children might have been exposed at school or during school activities.

Overwhelmed, state health officials plan to start doing the same Feb. 1. Already, counties have begun winding down notification activities as well, partly because of public resistance to being placed under orders to isolate themselves if they are shown to have tested positive.

All school districts except Hillsboro canceled classes for all or part of this week. In Hillsboro, classes continued, but all employees, students, and visitors were required to wear masks.

Despite cancellation of classes, sports events continue to be scheduled, and reporters attending those events have reported that few if any spectators have been wearing masks. Nor, with KDHE and Hillsboro suspending contact tracing, will spectators or students be informed if they were exposed by attending the events.

Officially, Peabody-Burns High School and Westview Manor nursing home in Peabody were added Wednesday to the state’s official list of COVID “clusters” because of large outbreaks at those institutions.

Official updates of COVID statistics have been scaled back in recent weeks. The next new numbers on COVID will not be released until Monday, when Marion County will report on the number in isolation and KDHE will provide daily totals for onset of symptoms from confirmed COVID sufferers.

One standard often used by school districts and others in determining whether to remain open is the percentage of people tested for COVID who test positive.

Generally, a rate of 10% or higher is considered to be a sign institutions such as schools should close.

Statewide, daily positivity rates have exceeded 10% every day since Nov. 23. They began exceeding 20% daily starting Dec. 28 and have exceeded 30% daily since Jan. 10.

In Marion County, positivity rates were higher than 50% for two of the past seven days. The overall positivity rate from Jan. 13 through 20 in the county was 37.9%. The statewide positivity rate during that period was 30.4%.

Just 49.6% of county residents age 5 and older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to KDHE data. Statewide, the number is 58.6%.

Make your opinion known

Should Marion County reimpose a mask mandate? Should sports be canceled along with classes? Should officials be required to continue notifying people who might have been infected? Or should the county simply let COVID-19 “burn itself out” and stop worrying about the pandemic?

We’re collecting public comments and invite you to share yours by completing the form below. A sampling of comments may appear in the paper or be forwarded to elected officials as appropriate.

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Last modified Jan. 21, 2022

 

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