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Shawnee Co. Health Officer reveals improving numbers for COVID-19 handling in the area

Published: Sep. 17, 2020 at 6:30 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - At Thursday’s Board of Health meeting, Shawnee Co. Health Officer Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino released promising numbers that illustrate an improving situation for the presence of COVID-19 in the county.

The week beginning September 6 showed a total of 99 new positive cases which is down from 181 the week before.

This number, despite more COVID-19 tests performed that week with a total of 2,804 up from 2,620 the week beginning on August 30th.

The percentage of positive test rates was also cut in half to about 3.5 percent down from 7.3 percent the week of August 30.

However, one growing factor that concerned Dr. Pezzino is the growing percentage of unreachable patients for contact tracing.

The week of September 6 saw 48 percent of COVID-19 cases with a known source of how the virus was contracted, 27 percent had an unknown source and 30 percent of patients were unreachable.

That means those contacted by the Health Department either did not return calls or refused to be interviewed, which Dr. Pezzino said the patient has the right to do but it causes some complications.

“That puts us in a bit of a conundrum because we can’t really track how the infection is spreading,” he told Shawnee Co. Commissioners.

Dr. Pezzino also revealed the latest Shawnee Co. Community Transmission and Severity Scorecard which scored the county at a 9, down from 16 on the previous scorecard.

Pezzino said the encouraging numbers were the result of appropriate safety measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Shawnee Co.

“This is the result in part of our containment measures that we’ve implemented in our county so had we not done what we’ve done those numbers would be much higher,” he said.

“The measures that we have in place now the precautions we have in place are adequate for an orange category of transmission.”

As a result of improvement, Dr. Pezzino announced the loosening of restrictions on nursing homes and allowing them to return to following guidelines put in place by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services .

One of those guidelines includes allowing nursing homes without a COVID-19 case for 28 days to allow the return to visitors but Pezzino said that is dependent on the facility.

He also lifted recommendations that people in high-risk groups for contracting COVID-19 stay home at all times, saying they should use personal risk assessment before going out in public and that they should avoid high-risk situations.

“I think they need to perform their own personal risk assessment, in particular try to avoid crowds especially indoors try to exercise social distancing but we do not consider it necessary for all the people at high risk to just stay home,” Pezzino said.

Pezzino also stressed the importance for everyone to get a flu shot this year.

“We do not have a vaccine for coronavirus yet but we do have a vaccine for the flu; get the vaccine it is more important than ever this year,” He said.

“Number one you do not want to get both viruses at the same time believe me you don’t because they attack the same organs to some extent and now you have your lungs attacked by the coronavirus and the flu at the same time, no good the second problem is that you can’t really tell apart somebody with symptoms.”

Given the current circumstances, Commissioner Bill Riphahn believed health officials should ease existing fears by making statistics, liike risks in certain age groups, more accessible to the public.

“I think people would feel better about sending their kids back to school. I think they’d feel better about going back to work. I think they’d feel better about  a lot of things if we just presented that risk percentage,” he said.

Commissioner Kevin Cook, however believed a better morale stems from emphasizing standard health measures.

“We have failed in education four basic simple [actions] wash your hands, maintain social distancing, do a risk assessment and wear a mask .”

Dr. Pezzino said progress is good but it’s too soon to fully return to normal.

“We wouldn’t want to lift too many measures at much we want to take an incremental approach so that we can monitor the effect of those decisions but everything is on the table.”

He said in order to start considering rolling back other restrictions like business operation capacity and restaurant hours the county needs to score in the yellow or “moderate” risk category on the scorecard for two weeks.

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