Douglas County health officials urge residents to get vaccinated as Delta variant spreads, start of school nears

photo by: Contributed Photo

Dr. Thomas Marcellino was appointed as Douglas County's health officer in 2012 by the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Board.

Because of a steep increase in COVID-19 cases since January, local health officers are urging all eligible residents to get vaccinated immediately, especially as the new school year is set to begin next month.

Douglas County’s 14-day moving average of new COVID-19 cases per day has increased by seven in the past two weeks, marking the largest increase since the beginning of the year, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health said in a news release Monday.

“With the more contagious Delta variant on the rise stemming from spread in communities around us, the trajectory does not look good right now for a potential wave that could push through before the new school year begins,” said Local Health Officer Dr. Thomas Marcellino in the release. “Now is definitely the time to take extra precautions to protect our community, especially getting vaccinated if you haven’t and wearing a mask in public if you are currently unvaccinated.”

Marcellino said some parents of children 12 and older should consider vaccinating their kids now in the weeks before school starts, because fully vaccinated individuals are exempt from quarantine protocols, if they remain asymptomatic.

“We know the last school year provided a lot of instability at being able to keep students in the classroom, so we are hopeful that with more vaccinated adults and students, it will eliminate much of the frustration for families of having to quarantine children who are exposed, because the fully vaccinated individuals as close contacts can remain in school if they remain symptom free,” he said.

Unlike prior increases of new cases, this one occurs in an environment where more than 50% of the county’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, which is providing protection from serious illness for those who have received the vaccine, the release said.

The health department said it had no reports of a fully vaccinated resident having to be hospitalized for COVID-19. Nearly 70% of the new Douglas County cases reported in July have occurred among unvaccinated but eligible people.

Marcellino said it’s important for all adults and eligible children to get vaccinated and practice mitigation to protect children younger than 12 who are currently not eligible for the vaccine.

LDCPH plans to follow the CDC’s school guidance for the school year, which includes:

• Masks indoors for anyone unvaccinated;

• Following quarantine and isolation protocols to protect against spread of the disease;

• Promote practices of good handwashing, hygiene and cleaning of environments as well as screening of individuals for potential COVID-19 symptoms;

• Provide information to the public on levels of community spread of COVID at LDCHealth.org, the COVID-19 Epidemiological Dashboard and Douglas County Coronavirus Hub to allow schools, organizations, families and individuals to make best decisions on how to be smart and safe for their own operations and activities.

Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher, deputy local health officer and infectious disease specialist at LMH Health, said unvaccinated residents of all ages who have resumed normal activities without adequate protection are most at risk.

“Anyone unvaccinated, including children age 2-11, right now should wear a mask while visiting indoor public places, when they are in crowded outdoor settings and for activities where they will have close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated,” Schrimsher said. “The current vaccines available in the United States have demonstrated to be effective at preventing hospitalization and death due to COVID-19, so please get vaccinated if you have not yet. Now is a very critical time.”

Anyone interested in booking a vaccine appointment or learning more about incentives for getting vaccinated can visit LDCHealth.org/COVIDVaccine. Businesses and organizations interested in LDCPH providing a vaccine clinic or COVID testing on site can also visit LDCHealth.org/COVIDClinic to make a request.

More information about Douglas County’s COVID-19 response is available at douglascountyks.org/coronavirus and LDCHealth.org/Coronavirus.

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