A sign on the front door of the Marshall County Health Department says, “STOP, if you have COVID-19 symptoms and want to be tested, go to your car and call 562-3485.”
People then can call the health department office and a nurse will come out to the vehicle to conduct a test.
The fast spread of COVID-19’s delta variant has led health officials nationally to take more precautions as requests for tests grow amid a resurgence in cases.
Marshall County recorded 11 active cases Tuesday, including one person in critical condition on a ventilator and another also hospitalized.
“These are not elderly people,” said health department director Sue Rhodes of the most serious cases. “And they were not vaccinated.”
Rhodes continued to wait for word from the state lab on whether the delta variant has been identified in samples sent last week.
Rhodes is pretty sure it is here. The county’s health officer, Dr. John Ryan, is too.
“In Marshall County, we’ve not had a documented delta. Two samples are being sequenced at the state now,” he said. “We’ve definitely seen an uptick in cases. That’s more than likely due to the delta variant.”
Ryan said delta is 200 percent more communicable than the original variant.
“And the amount of viral in your system with delta is 1,000 times more than the original virus.”
With more virus floating around in a person, the more the virus spreads.
“The people that have the virus have such a high load… so that makes it more communicable.”
Ryan expects a marked increase in the number of children getting the virus. That’s a major concern, he said, as school starts within a few weeks.
“Actually, the CDC notes children are the highest growth in cases,” he said. “Many adults are getting vaccinated, but children aren’t yet. Because of that, there’s an uptick in children getting infected comparably. They’re the ones not vaccinated and they’ll be the ones who will spread it.
That’s a concern.”
The county had 20 active cases by the end of last week, but several were released from quarantine by early this week.
Teens and adults without vaccinations are making up nearly all cases of COVID-19 statewide, KDHE reports.
The same is true locally, officials here say.
Those who are vaccinated are proving to have immunity. Just four vaccinated adults have tested positive out of the 4,682 people vaccinated in Marshall County, Ryan said, and their symptoms were very mild.
“It almost guarantees you’ll not end up in the hospital and die,” Ryan said, adding that this latest surge is being called “the epidemic of the unvaccinated.”
Regionally, the CDC reports, 75 percent of the cases in Kansas and Missouri now are delta.
With school starting soon, health officials are meeting with school leaders to determine whether masks should be worn and what other protective steps should be taken.
Children under age 12 won’t likely be eligible for the vaccine until late this year, Ryan said.
Rhodes planned a video meeting with Marshall County’s school district leaders on Wednesday this week.
“I think they have to start the school year with great caution,” Rhodes said. “It will hit the under-12-year-olds and a fair share of the 12- to 18-year-olds who are not vaccinated.”
Rhodes and Ryan have no authority regarding how school districts handle the pandemic. School boards will have to determine what approach to take.
Children ages 12 to 18 are eligible for the vaccine, which is free to everyone. But Rhodes said fewer than half of that age group in the county have gotten their first shot.
The county health department, 600 Broadway in Marysville, offers vaccinations each Tuesday. Rhodes said 20 to 40 people are regularly showing up for their shots.
A story on the Kansas City Star’s front page Sunday pointed to Marshall County as a top Kansas county for vaccinations. More than 63 percent of adults are now fully vaccinated here.
Marshall County Commissioner Barb Kickhaefer told the Star the county has long recognized health as important. She cited county voters’ support of a sales tax for Community Memorial Healthcare and the local dedication to walking and biking trails and gardening fresh foods.
Ryan said vaccination levels are good, but it’s the children he’s worried about. With high spread rates if the delta variant is here, the nursing homes again are at risk as well.
“Until we get the younger groups vaccinated it’s going to continue to be a concern. I just worry about it getting back into nursing homes,” Ryan said. “There are a number of nursing home residents who did not get the vaccine.”
Many elderly residents who are vaccinated have co-existing diseases and their immune systems are not in optimal shape.
“Hopefully with this delta variant, people are becoming more aware that the vaccine can help you and prevent it, or make you less sick,” he said.
(This story has been corrected from its original version, changing the sentence that states how infectious the delta variant is. It is 200 percent more communicable.)