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Some refuse shots as COVID surge ebbs

Staff writers

Even as COVID-19 cases are at a high rate in the county, workers in some health care facilities decline to be vaccinated.

The first round of COVID-19 vaccinations were rolled out to health care facilities nationwide, but the shots are not mandatory.

Kathy Noriega, chief of nursing at Marion Assisted Living, said employee vaccination clinic is scheduled for Thursday. Information has been provided to staff and while most have filled out paperwork to get the shots, she is still waiting for a few staff members to decide.

Krista Schneider, infection preventionist and employee health nurse for Hillsboro Community Hospital, said some employees declined to be vaccinated.

“We just wanted to make sure our people on the front lines had the opportunity,” Schneider said.

Peter Mungai, chief executive officer at Salem Home in Hillsboro, said the first vaccination clinic for Salem Home was Tuesday.

“We have close to 50 employees, and only two declined to get them,” Mugai said.

Mugai said he hopes participation among all health care facilities is good because it will take more than 80% of the population to reach herd immunity to the virus.

St. Luke Hospital chief nursing officer Kathy McMillen said not all employees chose to get the shot.

Last week’s record surge in COVID-19 cases ebbed slightly Monday.

County health officials reported 18 new cases — the same number reported Friday.

Even though each of those days recorded more new cases than have been reported in all but 14 of the 286 days in the pandemic, the single-day numbers were down significantly from the record 41 new cases reported last Monday and 31 last Wednesday.

The county’s seven-day total for new cases declined for the first time since Jan. 3, retreating from an all-time record of 90 to 67. That number is still high — just 3 below the crest of the pandemic’s post-Thanksgiving surge — but was the lowest seven-day total since Dec. 13.

Since Oct. 6, the county has remained a federal “red zone,” with the infection rate for the total population increasing by 5.6 times the standard for designation.

With the latest cases, the county has had 795 total cases of COVID-19 since April 1. That means 6.69% of the county’s residents have contracted the disease. Many more have been ordered quarantined because of exposure to COVID-19 victims.

Facemasks continue to be required in public, and maintaining at least six feet distance from others is recommended at all times, even when wearing a mask.

As of Monday, 82 county residents were continuing to experience symptoms or receive treatment or were under active orders to isolate themselves from others. Two people were reported hospitalized.

State officials were reporting that 30.74% of county residents had been tested for the virus. They also reported that, for the second time in the pandemic, Bethesda Home in Goessel experienced a cluster of five or more cases.

The latest outbreak involved 13 new cases through Jan. 4.

State data on Monday indicated that 17.5% of all Marion County residents tested for COVID-19 between Dec. 27 and Jan. 9 were found to have the virus. That was among the highest rates among surrounding counties.

Chase County’s rate was 5.9%; Harvey’s was 9.2%; Saline’s, 11.9%; McPherson’s, 13.4%; and Butler’s, 14.2%.

Only Morris (19.9%) and Dickinson (23.0%) had higher 14-day positivity rates.

Although local schools have rejected it, state guidance has been to end all face-to-face school instruction whenever the 14-day positivity rate for the community in which a school is located exceeds 10.0%.

County officials no longer release any information about victims’ ages, but state data indicate that the groups most likely to test positive for COVID-19 in Marion County over the past 14 days are those ages 14 to 17 and those age 85 and older. The groups least likely are those aged 5 to 13 and 55 to 74.

Over the past seven days, according to state data, the age groups most likely to test positive in the county were those 35 to 54 and 65 to 74.

The next update from county officials is not expected until Wednesday.

Less than one in five Marion students and school employees took advantage of an opportunity to get a free COVID-19 test on their first day back to school Jan. 4.

Superintendent Aaron Homburg said 100 people were tested during the drive-through event.

The district has 550 students and staff members, he said.

Homburg said many families did not see a need to be tested.

“I visited with several families, and they didn’t do anything over break,” he said. “It was just them in the house, so they didn’t believe they needed to be tested.”

For two months, the school has tested students for COVID.

“But that would be only those who show symptoms, and with parental consent,” Homburg said.

When rapid test results, which are available in 15 minutes, are positive, the school reports them to both the county and state health departments. They also follow up with a PCR test, considered to be more accurate.

The PCR test is sent to Kansas Department of Health and Environment to be processed.

“It’s just to make sure we aren’t getting a false positive,” Homburg said.

The school also is trying to stem community spread of the virus by separating students.

In larger middle school and high school classrooms, students are segregated to one side of the room or the other side, according to whether they participate in extra-curricular activities such as sports.

“We’re just trying to limit the exposure of kids,” he said.

County health department administrator Diedre Serene said when COVID-19 testing is done in a school or long-term care facility, test results eventually filter back to the county health department.

Those entities report test results to the state department of health and environment. The state logs the results into its database and sends the information to counties.

“We often don’t know about it until later,” Serene said.

Serene said Marion schools send PCR tests to KDHE with a driver. The state health department does the laboratory testing.

Hospitals send tests to outside labs for processing, and the labs report results to KDHE.

The health department gets test result notifications daily, showing both positive and negative results.

The health department also does tests when they are able, she said.

“We will test if time allows and if we have staff,” Serene said.

Last modified Jan. 14, 2021

 

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