Health department announces five new COVID-19-related deaths as case numbers decrease

(Graphic by Julie Freijat | Collegian Media Group)

In the latest COVID-19 update released on March 2, the Riley County Health Department announced five additional deaths attributed to COVID-19. All five deaths occurred during December, January and February. According to the report, four of the individuals were unvaccinated. The latest death was a 60-year-old vaccinated male who tested positive in January and died on Feb. 24. These deaths bring the county total to 79 since the beginning of the pandemic.

However, case numbers have decreased. Since the previous report on Feb. 16, the health department identified 188 new cases, with 132 of those cases being reported over the past two weeks.

With only 46 active cases of COVID-19, a decrease of 203 active cases since the previous report, and an additional 386 recoveries, Health Department Director Julie Gibbs said the county is in a much better position than it has been over the past two years.

“Thankfully, the community is now in a position to resume more of the social activities we all love,” Gibbs said in the report. “The health department will remain alert and active, and we will let you know if a new variant poses concerns locally. COVID will continue to be part of our lives, but it is not currently an emergency situation for Riley County.”

According to the report, Ascension Via Christi experienced an 86 percent decrease in hospitalizations since the omicron surge began in early January. There are four COVID-19 positive patients at Ascension Via Christi. The report did not indicate if any of those patients were in the Intensive Care Unit.

Along with case numbers and hospitalizations, the two-week positivity rate also decreased from 16.64 percent to 6.68 percent in the past two weeks, along with the decreased case numbers.

On-campus for the same time frame, the positivity rate was not updated. However, the most recent reported positivity rate was 8.85 percent for Feb. 14-18.

The Health Department also announced the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines the county can use to determine the next steps for the local community. According to the CDC website, Riley County is at a medium-risk level. Risk levels are determined by several factors: hospital beds used by COVID-19 patients, hospital admissions and the number of new COVID-19 cases in the local area.

The report also said that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment testing site at 3019 Anderson Avenue in the Plaza West Shopping Center remains open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Friday for free COVID-19 PCR tests through March 31. KDHE will also be distributing up to three free N95 masks to each individual requesting them.

Symptomatic patients needing a rapid test can schedule an appointment for Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays with the health department by calling (785) 323-6400 from 8 a.m. to noon, Monday-Friday. In addition, free take-home tests are available while supplies last.

In the report, Gibbs said she hopes people staying home when sick is a change that sticks around.

“Staying home if you are sick is one cultural change that I hope will last well beyond COVID-19,” Gibbs said in the report. “No one wants to spread COVID, flu or even colds to their friends, classmates or coworkers. Please continue to stay home if you are sick. You will find that you will recover from mild illness faster if you rest, drink plenty of fluids and follow the advice of your doctor.”