COVID variants causing Shawnee County cases to go up, health officials say


TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Shawnee County’s COVID-19 indicator is up five points from last week, according to health officials during a presentation at the county commission meeting.

It has risen to seven from a two, which is in the yellow and moderate zone. The number of weekly cases increased by 22.1%. According to Shawnee County Health Officer Dr. Erin Locke, COVID-19 variants are causing case numbers to go up, and the health department is seeing it mainly in younger people, instead of higher-risk groups.

There are four different variants of the virus that are concerning Shawnee County Health Officials.

“We’ve got the U.K., South African, Brazilian, and Californian,” Locke said.

All four have been found in Kansas, but only the U.K. variant has been found in Shawnee County. Locke said it’s the most common of the variants and has been detected in all 50 states. While early, Locke said preliminary data shows the variant is 50% more transmissible and brings the potential of more severe symptoms.

“We believe that it’s becoming the primary cause of our new cases in the county and that 60% of them are in college-aged and younger,” Locke said.

The health department believes this is because children under 16 are not eligible for the vaccine yet. The health officer also said the current vaccines are effective against the variants, but it’s difficult to know when people are being exposed to them.

“In order to actually identify a variant, you have to sequence all thirty thousand nucleotides of that virus in order to know what it is and what the changes are,” Locke said.

Currently, only the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is doing that special genome sequencing and is only conducting it on 300 Kansas COVID-19 tests per week. Locke hopes as more people get vaccinated, the rates will keep dropping.

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