Pandemic marches on
County among the worst of the worst for COVID
Though slowing, Marion County’s record-breaking surge in COVID-19 cases is continuing at triple last year’s pace, exacting a disproportionately heavy toll on the county.
According to the latest data from the state, the county’s total infection rate since the pandemic began stands at 26.87%, two full points higher than the statewide rate of 24.87%, which itself is among the highest rates in the nation.
That makes Marion County, with 3,177 confirmed cases, among the worst of the worst —not just now but also historically.
The infamous Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and ’19, which began in Kansas not Spain, infected just 8.3% of Marion County residents — less than a third the percentage infected by COVID.
Spanish flu had a much higher lethality rate — 4.2% of those infected. More than a century of medical advances have made COVID-19 have a lower lethality rate — just 1.2%, now 38 confirmed deaths, in Marion County.
However, the much higher infection rate means the two pandemics have claimed nearly the same percentages of county lives — 0.35% with Spanish flu and 0.31% with COVID-19.
And final numbers for COVID still are not in, not only because the pandemic is continuing but also because it takes several months for deaths officially to be recorded as related to COVID.
As of Monday, the most recent day for which data have been made available, 161 county residents were under isolation orders with active cases of COVID.
Thanks to slowing infection rates and to new rules limiting isolation to just five days, that’s down substantially from 389 active cases reported Thursday and 399 a week earlier.
But it still means that one out of every 73 people in the county were under isolation orders even as new state and school rules have allowed overworked health officials to suspend notifying people that they may have been exposed to COVID.
Two nursing homes and all but one school district in the county now are included on the state’s most recent list of COVID-19 “clusters.”
Of the 33 schools in the state listed as clusters, 12% of them are in Marion County, and an additional 42% of them are schools in adjacent counties that are frequent opponents of Marion County schools in sports. Combined, these are more than half of all school clusters in the state.
According to state data released last week, Marion schools led the way with the most new cases in the past 14 days — a total of 39. There also were 14 in Hillsboro schools, 13 in Goessel schools, and 10 at Peabody-Burns High School. Also on the cluster list are schools in such places as Canton-Galva, Inman, Lindsborg (Smoky Valley), and Towanda (Circle).
Salem Home in Hillsboro, with 11 new cases in 14 days, and Westview Manor in Peabody, with 14 cases, also are on the list along with nursing homes in Lindsborg, Marquette, McPherson, Moundridge, Newton, Salina, and Whitewater.
Three-eighths of the Marion County residents who have contracted COVID — 1,188 of them — contracted it since Nov. 1. That’s 61% more than contracted the disease during the same period a year ago, which at the time had been considered the peak period for COVID transmission.
The number of new cases recorded daily has exceeded last year’s daily record for 12 consecutive days starting Jan. 10, and numbers for all but one of those days still are regarded as preliminary and subject to upward revision.
New data released Monday once again revised the single-day record, set on Jan. 18, to 54 new cases that day.
The second highest day on record was the day before, with 46 new cases, a total that was revised upward on Friday.
Daily new case totals have dropped since then but continued to break the year-ago record until Jan. 21.
Even with not every case still counted, the total number of new cases for the week that ended Jan. 23 stood at 189, nearly four times the total for the same period last year.
From Jan. 10 through Monday, a total of at least 441 county residents — 3.73% of the county’s total population — came down with COVID-19.
Double-digit numbers of new cases were reported for all but one day through Jan. 22 and on four dates since then.
Bad as these numbers are, they probably understate the true nature of the pandemic. Not only are case totals frequently increased as many as two weeks after they are initially reported. Health officials also report that residents have become extremely reluctant to report COVID symptoms, even when infections are verified with home tests.
Results from newly available home tests are not included in these totals.
For the week that ended Sunday, even though final tallies for most of those days are not yet in, the county recorded 63 new confirmed cases compared with just 29 in the same period the year before.
The good news is that this year’s round of pandemic cases appears to be following a pattern established last year, peaking in mid-January and falling dramatically until around spring break and graduation season.
Last year, the disease largely vanished over the summer only to roar back with the start of sports and schools in August.