• Roger Sims, Journal Staff

Omicron variant confirmed by Linn County Health Department

Updated: Jan 22

Linn County Health Department Director Missy Lancaster on Monday confirmed that the omicron variant of COVID-19 was detected in Linn County on Jan. 3. (File photo)

MOUND CITY – The presence of the omicron variant of the coronavirus was first detected in a positive test of a person in Linn County on Jan. 3. “We found it in our county last Monday, so it is here,” Missy Lancaster told the Linn County Commission on Monday, Jan. 10.

Lancaster, the director of the Linn County Health Department, said that the department was still conducting COVID-19 tests daily by appointment. She also said her staff was struggling to meet the demand for testing.

“We cannot keep up,” she said.

She reported that 45 people were tested last week with 12 people testing positive. Nine of those with a positive test had been vaccinated and three of them were unvaccinated.

People who receive vaccinations can still contract the virus, particularly the more highly contagious omicron variant. However, those who have been vaccinated are much less likely to experience severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19.

KDHE reported 93 new positive cases in Linn County between noon on Jan. 3 and noon last Friday, Jan. 7. It reported an additional 176 new cases between last Friday, Jan. 7, and Wednesday, Jan. 12. As before, the KDHE test results come from other reporters including clinics, pharmacies and hospitals.

Commission Chair Jim Johnson said that there was concern last week about the department along with the emergency preparedness director ceasing to generate reports on COVID-19 cases in the county.

Lancaster said that numbers for the county could be found on the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) website. Click here for a link to that site.

“It does not break it down by city, but it does by county,” she said. She also added that home testing kits are also making accurate numbers difficult to track.

“It is very hard to try to track numbers because of home testing,” Lancaster explained. “They’re not going to report themselves to the state.”

Johnson pointed out that most of the numbers in the county’s report were coming from KDHE, and county employees would then break those numbers down by city.

Lancaster confirmed that was the process, and she added that many places that performed the tests other than the health department were not always on time in submitting their reports.

Commissioner Rick James pointed out that the county began generating its own reports when COVID-19 became a big issue. He said that Doug Barlet, the emergency preparedness director, spent hours each week going through the painstaking process of going through reports to insure accuracy and correct KDHE errors.

He said that many people wanted to continue to see those reports, but the cost to the county and the proliferation of home test kits figured into the decision to stop publishing the county reports.

Lancaster said that schools were continuing to do their own COVID-19 testing, and that she expected most of the school districts to look at adopting the new KDHE guidelines for quarantines for people who contracted the virus.

The guidelines dropped the previous 10-day quarantine to five days quarantined at home at the onset of symptoms and five days returning to work or school wearing a mask as long as there were no symptoms.

In a related matter, County Counselor Gary Thompson reminded commissioners that they needed to make nominations for the seven-member health department advisory board. Three healthcare professionals, three people who are not healthcare workers and one at-large representative who is either will comprise that board.

Each commissioner will select one healthcare worker and person who is not a healthcare professional to represent his district. The at-large representative will be selected by all three commissioners.

Thompson said that at the formation of the board, two members would have one-year terms, two members would have two-year terms and three would have three-year terms. After that rotation began, the term for each member would be three years.

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