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Risk of COVID-19 transmission now dropping in parts of Kansas City

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Fewer COVID cases have led to lower transmission risk ratings in some parts of the Kansas City metro area.

Despite downward case trends, much of the Kansas City area is still rated at the highest level of COVID risk by the federal government.

As the numbers of new COVID-19 cases consistently decline across the Kansas City metro area, health officials are lowering the risk rating in some counties — if only slightly.

This week, Johnson County, Kansas, lowered its community risk rating for COVID-19 infection from “high,” the highest possible level, down to “substantial,” the second-highest level.

However, the lower ranking doesn't change the county's public health recommendations.

"We continue to advocate for the same prevention measures — getting vaccinated, wearing masks in high-risk situations, staying home when sick and washing hands frequently," Johnson County health department director Sanmi Areola told KCUR in an email.

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention has lowered the COVID risk rating to "substantial" for Buchanan, Clay and Platte Counties.

Transmission risk is determined by the CDC based on new case numbers and the percentage of COVID tests that are positive.

Although the decreased ranking indicates a lower risk for COVID transmission, the CDC’s public health guidance for also counties remains largely the same. Everyone living in these counties should continue to wear masks in public, indoor settings.

On Tuesday morning, Johnson County reported a rate of 93 new cases per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate of 5.1%. Meanwhile, the CDC data showed a case rate of 126 per 100,000 for the same day.

Unlike the CDC, which counts both confirmed and probably cases in its counts, Johnson County only counts confirmed cases, a health department spokeswoman told KCUR in response to questions about the risk ranking.

Under the CDC system, a "high risk" ranking in a county indicates 100 or more cases per 100,000 residents, or a positivity rate of 10% or more for nucleic acid amplification COVID tests in the past seven days. A "substantial risk" ranking indicates between 50-99.99 cases per 100,000 people and a positivity rate between 8-9.99%.

The remaining counties in the Kansas City metro remain at the “high” level, as are the vast majority of counties in the United States.

These include Jackson County, Missouri, which currently has a case rate of 136 per 100,000, and Wyandotte County, Kansas, where the case rate stands at 103.

A small number of mostly rural counties, including a few in Kansas and Missouri, have reached the “moderate” or “low” transmission risk.

Updated: October 20, 2021 at 2:18 PM CDT
This story has been updated with more information from the Johnson County health department.
As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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