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What the coronavirus numbers are telling county health officials

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A photo shows a man receiving a vaccine at the Linwood YMCA.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
If you are looking to book an appointment to receive your first, second, or booster vaccine dose, reach out to your local pharmacist or health department.

With the Omicron variant in Wyandotte County and COVID-19 numbers rising, health directors in Clay County, Missouri and Johnson County, Kansas see problems ahead.

Clay County Public Health Director Gary Zaborac believes this year will likely be, at the very least, similar to last winter's COVID wave.

"I would be comfortable in saying this: I don't think it's going to be less difficult," observes Zaborac. "I think it's going to continue to be significantly challenging, for sure."

Dr. Sanmi Areola is director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. He says that while we've come a long way in our fight against the coronavirus, the rise in cases we're currently experiencing is deeply concerning.

"There will be a lot more infections. Hospitals, our health systems, are going to be stretched even further, both in terms of the number of patients coming in and in terms of resources and staffing," says Dr. Areola. "The positives, perhaps, is that we have a lot more people vaccinated... We're seeing an increased number of our residents getting their booster shots."

Right now in Clay County, Director Zaborac says they are seeing expected increases since Halloween and Thanksgiving. When it comes to Christmas and New Year's he says, "We really expect these numbers to stay significantly higher," pointing out that his county's weekly numbers "are the highest that we've seen the entire year all the way back to January 3."

Zaborac shared that one hospital currently has 113 patients with COVID-19. "That's huge," he says.

Numbers in Johnson County could be on their way to the highest daily numbers the county has seen during the pandemic. Dr. Areola thinks that there is more disinformation around COVID-19 than there was last year and that some folks aren't reporting symptoms or getting tested.

"The numbers that we are getting, as high as they are, I don't think reflect the extent of the spread of the virus," Dr. Areola explains. "We have people that are not wearing masks, a huge percentage of people. We have people that are saying the virus is a hoax. We have people that are saying don't take the vaccine."

When it comes to advice on best practices at this stage of the pandemic, it largely includes many of the common sense precautions that have been suggested since COVID-19 first began to spread.

"Be careful. Wear your mask. Avoid crowded indoor environments. Get vaccinated. Get your booster shots. Those things are even more important now," says Dr. Areola.

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