CLAY COUNTY — An outbreak of COVID-19 at area nursing homes continues to cause deaths among the high-risk population of older adults living at the facilities.

According to Clay County Public Health Center, as of Wednesday, July 1, COVID-19 attributed to 12 deaths and more than 80 cases at Pleasant Valley Manor Care Center off Sobbie Road in Pleasant Valley and less than six deaths and more than 15 cases at Liberty’s Ashton Court nursing home facility on West College Drive.

Clay County Public Health Center reports cases that occur in county residents who reside outside Kansas City. Cases from Kansas City residents in Clay County are reported by Kansas City Health Department. The overall death toll for those who live in Kansas City in Clay County is six. It is unclear if any of those deaths were nursing home residents in Kansas City.

“(One) reason we see different outcomes for different outbreaks can be the residents themselves, like if one facility’s residents tend to be older and have more underlying conditions. Those residents are at an extremely high risk of hospitalization or death,” said CCPHC Communications Specialist Kelsey Neth of the differences in the local facility outbreaks. “The state’s infection control visits did not produce any significant concerns regarding either site.”

County cases overall

In total, as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 30, there have 852 cases of COVID-19 reported in Clay County with 404 reported by Clay County Public Health Center and 448 reported by Kansas City Health Department.

While deaths associated with the Pleasant Valley care center continue to rise and the county continues to see a steady increase in the overall number of cases, Neth said it isn’t clear if the area is experiencing a second wave of infections as has been reported in the greater Kansas City metro area by other news outlets.

“While the seven-day average for Clay County has periodically increased within the past few weeks, when looking at the trends regarding that average, there has not really been a clear-cut first wave, let alone a second wave,” she said. “What we do know is this: Clay County continues to see cases of COVID-19 just like we have since March and it remains as important now as it was before for everyone to take preventative action to minimize spread. Those actions include wearing a face mask in public, keeping 6 feet away from others, frequently washing and disinfecting hands and staying home if high-risk or sick.”

While cases continue to rise as the community continues to reopen and testing capacity increases, CCPHC’s recovery dashboard, online at www.clayhealth.com, shows more people are recovering from the virus than not. Of the 404 overall positives since tracking began in March, 227 have been released from isolation and 47 of the 59 who were hospitalized are no longer. According to CCPHC, those isolated are defined as those currently under public health monitoring. Those released from isolation are those that completed 10 days since symptom onset or testing date or 10 days after hospital discharge and were fever-free for at least three days with improving respiratory symptoms.

While more people are recovering from the virus in CCPHC’s jurisdiction, the center’s sustained reduction in cases has a yellow score on a stoplight scale of green to red because cases continue to be reported.

“The average number of cases, however, continues to be low relative to other jurisdictions in the region. With hospital and testing capacity continuing to be strong, we can cautiously move forward with recovery,” states the county health center dashboard.

While case counts continue to be low compared to other regions, the public health center is operating over capacity, receiving a red stoplight score.

“The Clay County Public Health Center can maintain active case and contact isolation monitoring, however, we are operating over capacity. We are working to increase staffing capacity through federal funding as we move forward with recovery,” states the public health recovery dashboard. The health agency is currently using CARES Act funds to hire staff to conduct contact tracing.

“Our investigation is where it needs to be in terms of contacting initial contacts of positive cases, but in terms of doing that extensive contact tracing, we are just not where we want to be. A lot of that, … has to do with us just still being in the process of hiring more people to assist us,” said Neth.

Despite the amount of wide community spread, Neth said the center’s goal is to be able to adequately trace contact for all reported cases.

“The more contact tracers we have, the more help with that that we have, the more we will be able to look further back and identify trends and things like that,” she said.

Contact tracing of all cases in the public health agency’s reporting jurisdiction includes the case of a Liberty police department employee who tested positive, said Neth.

“Liberty has been transparent about that in terms of one of their employees has tested positive. Obviously, we are aware of that. We’ve been working with them, as with anyone else that has tested positive, to do some of that contact tracing,” she said.

As of press time Wednesday, no other Liberty police department employees have tested positive.

The news comes at the same time added health measures are being implemented in Kansas City. As of Monday, June 29, all employees or visitors to any place of public accommodation must wear face coverings in an area or while performing an activity that involves close contact or proximity to co-workers or the public where 6 feet of separation is not feasible. The order is effective through July 12.

While the mask requirement impacts the portion of Kansas City in Clay County, the city requirement does not apply elsewhere in Clay County. Currently, the county health center requires many employees/operators of businesses to wear masks when servicing the public, but not everyone in the public is required to wear one.

Health Center Executive Director Gary Zaborac said Monday that the health center board is discussing mandatory mask-wearing, but a decision is not expected until later this week.

Managing Editor Amanda Lubinski can be reached at amanda.lubinski@mycouriertribune.com or 903-6001.

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