The Labette County Commission, acting as the board of health, discussed the pandemic more than other topic during the annual meeting with the Labette County Health Department on Monday afternoon.

Dr. Sonya Culver, the medical director for the Health Department, provided updates on COVID-19, as did Brian Williams, CEO of Labette Health.

As of last Friday, Labette County had 199 active cases of COVID-19. Since the pandemic began, the county has had 2,169 total cases, 28 hospitalizations and 19 deaths. Of the total case count, 1,970 patients are considered recovered, according to Lisa Hoppock, registered nurse and administrator of the Health Department.

Culver, Hoppock and Williams discussed the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are being administered to health care workers in Kansas now. In the next phase of the state’s vaccine distribution plan, people age 65 and older will be able to get the vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine is 94.5% effective in fighting the virus and Moderna is 90% effective, Hoppock said.

By comparison, the annual flu vaccine is up to 60% effective, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Commissioner Brian Kinzie asked Hoppock about the death statistics for COVID. He asked if the deaths reflected patients dying of COVID or if the person had COVID with underlying health conditions. Hoppock said the deaths reflect patients whose death certificates show they died from COVID or from COVID-related causes.

Labette County had its first COVID-19 case on March 23, Hoppock said. Dr. Ben Legler was the first person in the county to get the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 15.

Culver said she watches the positivity rate for the county to get an accurate picture of the virus. She doesn’t like the way the Kansas Department of Health and Environment calculates positivity rates, using the number of positive COVID tests each day divided by the number of tests given. She prefers calculating that weekly to make more meaningful numbers.

The first seven days in January, the county had a 16.6% positivity rate.

“Not great. But not as terrible as a lot of places in the country. So I think we’re holding our own. But we need to continue to be vigilant and continue to encourage people to mask and to sanitize and to stay out of large groups,” Culver said.

She said the positivity rate in schools is less than 1%. But absenteeism is a different story as students get quarantined because of possible contact with positive cases. Quarantined students still use Zoom to attend classes.

Williams said physicians have reported seeing patients with the second strain of the COVID-19 virus, similar to what’s seen in England. The evidence is anecdotal. Culver agreed and said the strain that’s in Africa is likely here as well given the travel patterns of Americans. This is not documented, however, she said.

“It’s in the state. We don’t have it documented but I’m sure it’s here,” Culver said.

The distribution of the vaccine is limited to health care workers now and first responders and will expand to other groups in the next phase, including people age 65 and older. The next phase could start in early February. 

Williams said the hospital has received and distributed Pfizer and Moderna vaccine and has Moderna vaccine left to distribute. The hospital will follow the state’s vaccination plan and the targeted groups in each phase and is working with the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas and will work with the Health Department.

Hoppock said the Health Department received 50 doses of the vaccine and gave it to CHC for distribution.

The nursing staff at Parsons State Hospital and Training Center will be vaccinated, Culver said.

Walgreens is administering vaccine to staff and residents in long-term care facilities.

Williams said there have been some side effects from those taking the vaccine. Some have experienced flu-like symptoms for 24 to 36 hours, including body aches and fever. Culver said anecdotal evidence shows those who have had COVID-19 have more side effects.

Even with the vaccine, people should continue to wear masks, social distance and keep their hands clean to prevent the spread of the virus, the health officials said.

Hoppock said that the COVID-19 vaccine may need to be administered every year. The issue of how long it is effective is still under study, however.

Williams also gave an overview of patient numbers with COVID-19 at Labette Health.

He said Labette Health has had 142 patients admitted with COVID-19. Of those, 112 were discharged. Two patients were sent to the inpatient rehabilitation unit. These numbers do not include the number of patients who died or were transferred to another hospital, he said.

He said the hospital has expanded to having two hospitalists on duty with a third on backup because of the increased census at the hospital.

He said annually 34,000 people die of the flu. Since March, 380,000 Americans died from COVID.

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