Marion County had two pieces of good COVID-19 news this past week, that the recent surge in new cases continued to ebb Monday, and that there soon could be a vaccine available.
Despite the flow of cases slowing to its lowest point since Halloween, numbers remain at levels unprecedented before the surge began.
Twenty new cases reported Monday after Thanksgiving’s long holiday brought to 454 the total number of new cases reported since the Marion County’s first case April 1.
In the past seven days, 34 new cases have been reported — the lowest total reported this month but still well above previous levels. Until Halloween, the record number of cases in any seven-day period had been 25. Within two weeks after Halloween, the seven-day total had swelled to 88. It has been declining since.
An expected increase associated with Thanksgiving and early Christmas has not yet arrived.
Part of the reason for having fewer reported cases might have been that there weren’t many places available to get tested during Thanksgiving and the weekend, county health nurse Diedre Serene said.
“I think that’s a little bit misleading,” she said. “I think we will see an increase, probably a week or two weeks after Thanksgiving. We might, we might not. Generally, we will see a wave though.”
Tabor College president Jules Glanzer was among recent COVID victims, and was admitted to intensive care Saturday, according to a Tabor press release.
The college reported Tuesday that Glanzer remained in ICU but was showing improvement and had regained an appetite.
County health officials reported Monday that 41 patients still were exhibiting symptoms or undergoing treatment, and one of them was hospitalized.
Another recent victim of the virus was Hillsboro city councilman Dave Lowen, who went through Thanksgiving in isolation.
“It was not the traditional Thanksgiving, that’s for sure,” he said. “That was a different experience — and then not feeling well at the same time.”
Loewen stayed in isolation at his daughter’s house and said he wasn’t able to leave until Saturday.
COVID-19 vaccines could soon be available in Marion County if paperwork submitted by Serene is approved by the Centers for Disease Control.
The CDC is deciding how many doses will go to each state. Kansas Department of Health and Environment will apportion the doses to counties.
“Anybody who is going to provide the vaccine had to register,” Serene said.
In the form, she included the numbers of influenza vaccines the health department provided for different age categories.
“I used the number of the clientele we served for other shots also,” Serene said. “We also had to put in how much storage capacity we had in refrigerated, frozen, and ultra-frozen.”
Some newly developed COVID-19 vaccinations must be stored at very low temperatures. Those are called “ultra-frozen” vaccinations.
KDHE told county health departments not to purchase storage units for ultra frozen vaccines.
CDC will decide how many vaccines are available to states, Serene said.
“I would think that every state would at least get some,” she said.
KDHE will then decide how much vaccine is sent to each county, factoring priority groups into the equation.
Which groups will be rated “priority” has not yet been determined, Serene said.
She does not know how soon vaccine will be here — or how long the county will wait.
“I know they are waiting for FDA approval, so after FDA approves, it will begin,” she said. “My guess is that hospitals and long-term care will probably get it before health departments.”
Despite the improvement in Monday’s report, the county remains a federal “red zone.” The overall infection rate is 38.2 per 1,000 residents, up 2.9 from a week earlier. Of those tested for the virus by PCR and antigen testes in the past 14 days, 39.9% tested positive.
The latest numbers show substantial improvement over where they were earlier this month, when the seven-day increase in infection rate peaked at 7.4, with the 14-day positivity rate peaking at 71.1% and hovering for many days above 40%.
Still, they remain well above levels that typically call for special precautions. A seven-day increase of 1.0 in the infection rate and any positivity rate of more than 10% are regarded nationally as signs that travelers to an area may need to quarantine.
The last time Marion County had a seven-day increase per 1,000 below even 2.0 was nearly five weeks ago, on Oct. 29, and there was just one day since Oct. 6 when the county did not qualify as a red zone.
Reporter Eric Meyer contributed this story.