Health department to cover costs
wo more months of free testing for COVID-19 will be offered to Platte County residents, thanks to action taken last week by the Platte County Health Department Board of Trustees.
At a meeting on Sept. 15, the health board passed a motion to cover the costs of tests for the next 60 days. The free testing is open to any Platte County resident who wishes to be tested, symptomatic or asymptomatic.
Mary Jo Vernon, director of the health department, presented numbers to the board indicating the cost to the health department to conduct free testing will be about $25,000 per month.
She said from Aug. 15 to Sept. 15 the health department conducted 236 tests over the course of seven clinics held on Mondays and Wednesdays during that time. The $25,000 per month estimate includes cost of tests, cost of staffing the clinics, and other miscellaneous expenses, including mileage to run the tests to Kansas University Health System.
Vernon said the health department has about $894,000 in a money market account right now. With testing costs, contact tracing expenses and disease investigation costs, it is estimated the account would be down to around $400,000 by the end of the year.
Vernon said the numbers are “very rough estimates” so the board would know “where we are at money-wise.”
She said the department will receive a tax disbursement check in December, which is money generated by the department’s tax levy on real estate and personal property.
The health board unanimously approved continuation of the free testing, which had previously been approved for only Aug. 15 to Sept. 15.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Vernon said of the continuation of the program.
Region-wide, Vernon said testing is down recently. Six weeks ago there were about 30,000 tests per week being conducted in the Kansas City region. That number in the past few weeks has dropped to about 10,000 per week.
“There are a lot of reasons. People are tired of COVID, some people don’t want to know if they’re positive knowing they’ll have to stay home from work and family members will have to quarantine,” Vernon remarked.
Vernon said another concern is that people are not being completely forthcoming in reporting their contacts when it comes to health officials conducting contact tracing for those who test positive.
Nationwide, the average is 10 contacts for a person who tests positive. In the Kansas City region, people are only reporting an average of two contacts.
She said part of the reason for that, she believes, is that some people feel embarrassment that they have caused their friends to have to be tested.
The cumulative number of positive cases in Platte County continues to rise, said Dan Luebbert, deputy director of the health department.
The total number announced on Monday, Sept. 21 is 1,459 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Of that amount, 789 have been in the Kansas City portion of Platte County and 670 have been in Platte County outside the city limits of Kansas City.
At the Sept. 15 board of trustees meeting, Luebbert said there have been 99 cases confirmed in the previous two weeks in the health department’s jurisdiction alone (that portion of Platte County outside the city limits of Kansas City).
He said the 99 number is the second largest for a two-week period since testing began. The highest two-week number had happened in early August, he said.
This week, Luebbert updated that rolling two week number.
“The past two weeks have been even worse, with 130 cases reported in our jurisdiction alone,” he told The Landmark on Tuesday.
“So it’s as hot as it’s ever been,” Luebbert said of the community spread of the virus.
There have been 12 COVID-19 deaths of Platte County residents, according to the health department’s numbers, with the 12th reported earlier this week.
Luebbert said the three largest specific age groups with the highest number of positive cases are persons age 21, 22, or 23, which he indicated to him is not surprising. “Not excusing it, but it’s not surprising given normal social behavior at that age,” Luebbert remarked.
The fourth largest specific age with the most number of cases is age 50. “Not sure why that is,” Luebbert stated.
He said the positivity rate (percent of those taking the test whose result is positive) in Platte County as of last Tuesday was around 15 percent.
“We’d like to see it down around five percent. But I don’t know when we’ll see five percent again. It’s going to be a while,” Luebbert remarked.