County COVID-19 cases difficult to track following decision to stop publishing report

Updated: Jan 20

PLEASANTON – A week after the Linn County Commission ordered the county health department to stop publishing COVID-19 data, there is some confusion about how many new and active cases there are in the county.


At the commission meeting on Dec. 27, the commission ordered the health department to cease posting weekly COVID-19 reports, saying that it was taking too much time for county employees to make the report. Commission Chair Rick James said that the numbers being sent into the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) would be sufficient reporting for the county.


Commissioners did, however, request that Health Department Director Missy Lancaster begin breaking down a weekly report into how many vaccinated and how many unvaccinated people were testing positive.


On Monday, Jan. 3, James told Lancaster that it was only necessary for the health department to report to the commission once a month on COVID-19 cases.


Lancaster told commissioners that 28 people were tested at the health department the previous week, and of those tested five people were positive, Two of those with a positive test were vaccinated and three were unvaccinated. She noted that the testing was "skewed" because most of those who came to the health department for tests planned to travel.


The weekly reports previously published by the health department and county Emergency Preparedness Director Doug Barlet counted positive cases from several sources such as clinics and doctors offices and not just those testing at the health department.


KDHE reports showed a different story. On Dec. 22 the county reported a total of 1,941 cases since the pandemic began. On Monday, Jan. 3, KDHE reported 1,987 cases in Linn County, 46 new cases during that 14-day period.


On Wednesday, Jan. 5, that number had jumped to 2,033 or an additional 46 cases over two days.


At Monday's meeting, Lancaster told commissioners that while there seems to be a shortage of tests across the nation, the department had plenty of both tests and vaccines. She said that the walk-in COVID vaccination clinic on Wednesdays was going well.


As Lancaster ended her report, James asked whether masks were “coming back,” a reference to the omicron variant. She said they were.

In a separate interview on Monday, she said that, so far, none of the cases in Linn County were linked to the omicron variant. She declined to give any further information on the number of new cases or deaths attributable to COVID-19.

The last three reports on local COVID cases showed a steady decrease in new cases.


On report for the seven-day period ending Dec. 8, there were 70 new cases, 99 active cases, two people hospitalized, 28 people children younger than 18 tested positive and no deaths.


The Dec. 15 report showed 65 new cases, 87 active cases, three people hospitalized, 30 people younger than 18 were had positive tests, and one person from Blue Mound died.


The final report on Dec. 22 showed 40 new cases, 76 active cases, five people hospitalized with one of those being in an intensive care unit, and one death from the Mound City area. Twenty of the new cases were in children up to 18 years old.


School districts in the county are hoping the return from the winter break will see a reduction in cases. Superintendents from all three school districts reported spikes in infections in the three weeks during the Thanksgiving break.

Prairie View USD 362 Superintendent Rex Bollinger said last month that his district experienced a similar increase last year. During the week ending Dec. 10, that school district had seven students with confirmed positive tests and nearly 100 students in either quarantine or modified quarantine with testing.

Jayhawk USD 346 Superintendent Shawn Thomas also reported an increase in cases during the week ending Dec. 10, particularly among staff members.

The omicron variant was identified in a Franklin County patient more than two weeks ago and has continued to spread across Kansas. But while local heath providers are bracing themselves for that next wave, a more familiar virus is back.

Lancaster said that the flu is back and several people have tested positive for the virus.

Last year, due in part to masking, social distancing and hand-washing and disinfecting, particularly in schools, incidents of flu were down.

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