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Nursing home outbreaks of COVID-19 decreasing in county
Positive cases in younger populations spiking in Clay County

CLAY COUNTY — According to officials with Clay County Public Health Center, after weeks of increased positive cases and dozens of deaths, multiple outbreaks of coronavirus at area nursing homes are leveling off.

As of Monday, July 20, CCPHC Communications Specialist Kelsey Neth said outbreaks at nursing homes had accounted for a majority of the health center’s reporting jurisdictions cases and deaths with:

• 92 cases and 12 deaths at Pleasant Valley Manor Care in Pleasant Valley,

• 19 cases and no deaths at Heritage Avonlea of Gladstone,

• eight cases and zero deaths at Liberty Health and Wellness and

• 58 cases and seven deaths at Ashton Court Care and Rehabilitation Centre in Liberty.

“Last week, we reported about 77 new cases and 72 were not related to any sort of outbreak like that,” she said July 20. “It’s a big decrease from previous weeks because they had been over 50% of our cases. We’ve seen a steady decrease there over the past four weeks.”

Since July 20, Neth said cases at congregated living facilities continue to stay stagnant, for the most part, despite increases in cases elsewhere in the health center’s reporting jurisdiction, which covers all of Clay County except the portion of Kansas City in county limits. Kansas City cases are reported by the Kansas City Health Department.

As of Monday, July 27, Neth said she believes no new cases reported by the health center in the past week have been associated with outbreaks at nursing homes.

Uptick in younger population

Despite the drop in nursing home cases, Clay County, like the rest of the country, continues to see a spike in overall community spread. As of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 28, case totals for Clay County stood at 1,379 positive cases to date with 28 deaths. Of those, 659 cases and six deaths are in Kansas City residents and reported by the Kansas City Health Department.

The county reporting jurisdiction saw its biggest spike in cases, according to the health center’s COVID-19 resource hub available through the health center site at, in the past month. Between June 25 and July 27, cases have more than doubled from 338 on June 23 to 711 as of Monday.

As with other reports from across the nation, CCPHC is also now reporting its biggest jump in cases among younger populations. According to the health center’s data hub, those 65 and older with the virus now account for roughly 24% of positive cases. Currently, the most infected age range are those between 45 to 64, at 31%, followed by those aged 25 to 44 at 29%.

“While we are seeing about 60% of our hospitalized cases in those 65 and older, those do not account for all of our cases. We are seeing more of them in those that are younger,” said Neth. “… Young people are not immune to it, for sure. Everyone, as always, needs to be taking this seriously and do what they can to protect themselves and others,” she said.

In a graphic shared by the health center on social media last week, the center reported its biggest age range spike between June and so far in July in those ages 20 to 29, with the case count more than doubling from roughly 20 cases to nearly 50 in that age bracket.

“This month, we have seen an increase in the number of young people testing positive for COVID-19. There has also been an increase among this population in hospitalizations although there have been no deaths of anyone under 45 years of age in the county,” states a Facebook post from the health center dated July 24. “It remains extremely important that all people over the age of 2 wear a mask in public and use other essential strategies to reduce the spread of germs.”

Earlier this month the health center mandated face coverings be worn in public in response to the highest spike in cases reported since the pandemic begin this winter. According to health center data, while stay-home orders were in place in March, it took roughly 50 days for the reporting jurisdiction to reach 100 positive cases. Since then, the next 100 cases were reported in less than half that time in 24 days. Cases rose from 200 to 300 in another 12 days, to 400 cases in another 12 days and to 500 cases in 10 subsequent days.

Preventing the spread

While differing kinds of masks offer varying amounts of protection from the spread of germs and viruses, health experts at the Mayo Clinic report even cloth face coverings are better than no mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“A cloth mask is intended to trap droplets that are released when the wearer talks, coughs or sneezes. Asking everyone to wear cloth masks can help reduce the spread of the virus by people who have COVID-19 but don’t realize it,” states “Cloth face coverings are most likely to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus when they are widely used by people in public settings.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site states wearing a face covering is a form of source control.

“This recommendation is based on what we know about the role respiratory droplets play in the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, paired with emerging evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that shows cloth face coverings reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth.”

After walking onto the football field at the Kearney High School TDR Activity Complex Saturday, July 25, Kearney’s Class of 2020 take their seats, distanced 6 feet apart to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. For more scenes from graduation, see Page A8.

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August ballot full of state, county primary races

CLAY COUNTY — Voters who cast their ballot in the Tuesday, Aug. 4 primary will choose from a slew of candidates running for the state and county’s top offices as well as U.S. representative. The following is a rundown of those running in contested Missouri House district and county races as well as details on ballot questions being put voters on Medicaid expansion and construction projects in the Smithville School District.

Western Clay County Commissioner

On the Republican primary ballot, voters will choose between four candidates for western commissioner of Clay County. Candidates are Josiah Bechtold, Barry McCullough, Lydia McEvoy and Rodney Phillips. The top vote-getter will advance to the general election in November and face the winner of the Democratic primary. State Rep. Jon Carpenter faces current Clay County Assessor Cathy Rinehart in the Democratic race.

Eastern Clay County Commissioner

Voters in the Republican primary will choose one of three candidates to face lone Democrat candidate Dustin Bell in the November general election for the office of eastern Clay County commissioner. Republicans on the primary ballot are Doug Ervin, Megan Thompson and Dan Troutz.

Clay County Assessor

Republican voters have three candidates, Tracy Baldwin, Bill Keefer and Chris Lonsdale, to choose from in the Aug. 4 primary for county assessor. The winner will face lone Democrat to run, Bruce Cantwell, in the November general election.

Clay County Treasurer

As no Democrats filed for the office, those voting in the Aug. 4 election will choose between three Republicans to represent them as Clay County’s next treasurer. Appointed incumbent Bob Nance faces challengers Lisa Vogelbaugh Keefer and Jesse Leimkuehler for the four-year seat.

Missouri House District 8

In the August primary for state House District 8, which covers a portion of northern Clay County including parts of Kearney and Holt, voters will select the next representative from four Republican candidates: Gary Stroud, Darlene Breckenridge, Randy Railsback and David Woody as no Democrats filed for the office. Incumbent Jim Neely is being term-limited out of office and cannot run for reelection. He is currently running as a Republican primary candidate for governor.

Missouri House District 12

Two Republican candidates are on the Aug. 4 ballot for state representative of Missouri House District 12, which includes Smithville. Candidates are Josh Hurlbert and Deanette Lemons. The winner of this race will go on to face sole Democrat and current Smithville school board member Wade Kiefer.

Missouri House District 15

Two Republican candidates, Adam Richardson and Steve West, vie to move to the November general election for Missouri House District 15, which includes Gladstone. The winner of the Republican primary will face Maggie Nurrenbern, the lone Democrat to file.

Smithville School District ballot question

Smithville School District is asking two questions of district voters on the August ballot. The first question reads, “Shall the Smithville R-II School District issue its general obligation bonds in the amount of $14.1 million for the purpose of constructing, improving, renovating, furnishing and equipping school facilities, including construction of six additional classrooms at Eagle Heights Elementary School, a field house/activity center at the stadium, playground improvements and various mechanical improvements?”

If this question is approved, the district’s debt service property tax levy is estimated to remain unchanged at $1.1535 per $100 of assessed valuation of real and personal property.

The second question is asking to transfer 10 cents of the debt service levy to the operations levy, which will result in the same total levy amount reorganized to supply more funds in an account that can go towards operations of the district and fewer funds toward debt payments.

The question reads, “Shall the Board of Education of Smithville R-II School District be authorized to increase the District’s operating property tax levy by $0.10 per $100 of assessed valuation for the purpose of paying general operating expenses of the district?”

“If this question is approved, the adjusted operating property tax levy of the district is expected to increase from $3.9465 to $4.0465 per $100 of assessed valuation of real and personal property and the district expects to make a corresponding reduction of its debt service property tax levy by $0.10 from $1.1535 to $1.0535 per $100 of assessed valuation, resulting in the estimated overall district adjusted property tax levy remaining unchanged at $5.1000 per $100 of assessed valuation,” the district website states.

For more information on projects to be funded by the district’s question one, visit

Constitutional Amendment 2

Missouri voters will be asked on the August ballot if they approve expanding the state’s Medicaid program. It is estimated expansion of MO HealthNet, the state’s Medicaid program, would add about 230,000 people to its rolls. MO HealthNet already serves about 900,000 people.

A “yes” vote supports expanding Medicaid eligibility in Missouri to adults age 19 to 64 whose income is 133% of the federal poverty level or below, which would effectively expand Medicaid to those with incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level under the Affordable Care Act; prohibiting any additional restrictions or requirements for the expanded population to qualify for Medicaid coverage than for other populations that qualify for Medicaid coverage; and requiring the state to seek maximum federal funding of Medicaid expansion.

If approved, state government entities are estimated to have one-time costs of approximately $6.4 million and an unknown annual net fiscal impact by 2026 ranging from increased costs of at least $200 million to savings of $1 billion, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

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Rotary funds all-inclusive play equipment at Smithville schools

SMITHVILLE — During an April 2019 Smithville Board of Education meeting, Maple Elementary School student Braeden Highfill approached board members about installing all-inclusive playground equipment at each of the district elementary schools.

As Highfill is in a wheelchair, he asked for new equipment so he and others could be included during recess.

“(Highfill) shared that the current playground is very difficult for aides to lift him onto the equipment,” board documents state.

“A handicap-accessible playground would allow all students to be included and would meet the needs of all kids,” Highfill explained.

Although the school district was unable to fund the project immediately, the local Rotary club stepped in to provide playground sand pits at each of the lower level schools.

Highfill was on hand at the unveiling of the new play feature on July 16. He thanked members of the Smithville Rotary for listening and said that although he is moving on from elementary school, he is appreciative as this new feature may be used by his little sister as she gets older and attends Maple Elementary.

To further upgrade efforts, on the August ballot Smithville School District is asking voters to approve a bond, part of which would pay for all-ability accessible surfacing for each of the elementary school playgrounds.

“You’ve inspired us,” Superintendent Todd Schuetz said to Highfill. “You should be very proud of what you’ve done here.”