Pandemic response team reverts to its original name to reflect broader focus; 49 new virus cases reported in county

photo by: Kevin Anderson/Journal-World File Photo

The Lawrence-Douglas County health department's home at the Community Health Facility, 200 Maine St., is pictured in this file photo from July 2010.

The name of Douglas County’s pandemic response team is once again changing to reflect the group’s focus on a wider variety of topics, according to a news release from the health department on Friday.

In July, Douglas County developed an education-specific response team called Education Unified Command, which provided support and guidance for local K-12 schools and higher education. Previously, the name of the response team had just been Unified Command, and now the group will once again have that name in order to reflect a broader structure, the release stated.

“Through the pandemic, this collaborative leadership structure has paid dividends both under the earlier Unified Command and more recent education-focused group,” Robert Bieniecki, director of Douglas County Emergency Management, said in the release. “As we continue to focus on the community’s resilience and recovery strategies, we believe this reorganized structure will be more flexible as community needs evolve during the pandemic.”

According to the release, Unified Command will continue to guide COVID-19 response and recovery efforts, and the new structure will focus on a wider variety of topics, including equity, education, economic recovery, housing and human services, community wellness, vaccination planning and surveillance testing.

“The Unified Command’s objectives include encouraging universal usage of masks when social distancing is not possible as well as seeking to prohibit or minimize activity that creates a high risk for COVID-19 transmission,” the release states. “Other objectives related to the ongoing response include rapidly and effectively responding to outbreaks and spikes in cases, establishing surveillance testing capabilities and developing a vaccination strategy to help plan for distribution in the future.”

The Unified Command team will continue to be led by Douglas County Administrator Sarah Plinsky, Lawrence City Manager Craig Owens, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health Director Dan Partridge, LMH Health CEO and President Russ Johnson, University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod, chamber of commerce President and CEO Bonnie Lowe and Lawrence Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Lewis.

Douglas County’s health department on Friday confirmed 49 new cases of COVID-19 since Thursday’s daily report. Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health spokesperson George Diepenbrock said that about 20 of those cases had initially been investigated by other counties but were rerouted to Douglas County late this week, “based on the individual having a tie to our community either through their work or as a student.”

Douglas County has 331 active cases of the respiratory virus and has confirmed 2,573 cases overall since the pandemic began in March. The virus has killed 14 county residents, including one death announced this week. Currently, there are three patients at Lawrence’s hospital with COVID-19, the same number as Thursday.

The county has averaged about 16 new cases per day over the last 14 days, according to a 14-day moving average graph updated weekdays by the health department. The current average of 16 new cases per day is down from a high of 46 cases per day in early September, when the University of Kansas conducted widespread tests of students and staff, and up from a recent low of nine cases per day in early August.

In its weekly community scorecard, Douglas County hit all of its goals over the past week: The average weekly number of COVID-19 cases decreased, no high-risk outbreaks were reported, the number of active cases per week decreased and less than 40% of beds and 20% of ventilators were in use at LMH Health.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s online map noted that 31,202 Douglas County residents had been tested for the disease so far. The county’s testing rate per 1,000 people was 255.2.

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