Shawnee County Health Department worries of community spread before Thanksgiving holiday

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TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Coronavirus transmission in Shawnee County remains uncontrolled for the fourth week in a row, according to the Shawnee County Health Department.

Shawnee County has seen 2,919 positive cases in the month of November alone. From March to September, Craig Barnes with the health department said Shawnee County saw 2,776 cases. The county is averaging around 147 positive coronavirus cases a day. Barnes said investigators are processing previous tests through Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

Staff in all areas at The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus are working in the hospital to fight coronavirus, according to Dr. Jacqueline Hyland. She said people should feel safe to come into clinics, but virtual appointments are available and encouraged for patients experiencing symptoms.

Dr. Hyland said the St. Francis campus has 42 coronavirus positive inpatients, which is up from 19 two weeks ago. The hospital is operating at 106% capacity in the ICU, and 84% in medical and surgical units.

Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino said the positive percentage of coronavirus tests by week is reason to be concerned, especially with thanksgiving holiday left in November’s data.

Shawnee County remains in the “uncontrolled rate” of coronavirus transmission, Dr. Pezzino said, with no improvement after last week, the worst week yet.

Dr. Pezzino said, earlier in the pandemic, over two-thirds of coronavirus deaths came from nursing homes. Now that’s down to 60% in recent weeks, meaning more deaths are coming from community-acquired cases.

“The light is at the end of the tunnel, we can see it,” said Dr. Pezzino.

Dr. Pezzino said the only safe place is your home and not gathering with anyone outside of your household. While it’s disappointing to not meet for the Thanksgiving holiday, people must protect their families and not risk spread.

“A negative test does not mean you are safe to be around people,” said Dr. Pezzino. He explains a person could not have enough viral load to be detected in a test. A negative test should not be an excuse to gather for the Thanksgiving holiday, said Dr. Pezzino.

However, a vaccine expected to hit Topeka as early as mid-December is giving health leaders hope.

“That is really the bright light that we need at the end of the tunnel,” Pezzino said. “But make no mistake this tunnel is still long before we can reach the light. We need to be sure that we can make it through the tunnel in a safe way.”

Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla said there’s a lot to be thankful for, even in uncertain times. She also translated the entire press conference synopsis in Spanish for viewers. Mayor De La Isla extends her thanks to frontline workers.

You can watch the full press conference here.

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