Feb 11, 2021 7:20 PM

Norman: Ellis Co. can't 'breathe sigh of relief' yet after COVID variant ID'd

Posted Feb 11, 2021 7:20 PM
Dr. Lee Norman speaks on the Kansas University Health System morning media update on Tuesday about the COVID-19 variant found in a student athlete at Fort Hays State University.
Dr. Lee Norman speaks on the Kansas University Health System morning media update on Tuesday about the COVID-19 variant found in a student athlete at Fort Hays State University.

By CRISTINA JANNEY
Hays Post

The secretary for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said Tuesday results of testing revealed no spread in a COVID-19 variant identified in the Ellis County last week, but the county is still not in the clear.

Dr. Lee Norman, Kansas Department of Health and Environment secretary, was on the University of Kansas Medical Center morning media update Tuesday and discussed the COVID-19 variant that was found in Ellis County.

Norman said health care professionals knew it was only a matter of time before one of the COVID-19 variants was identified in the state.

Last week, the B117 variant, the United Kingdom variant, was discovered during routine testing in a Fort Hays University student athlete.

The state came to Hays at the end of last week with one of its brand-new mobile testing laboratories and a "strike team" to test about 200 people.

Scott Cason, FHSU's chief communications officer, clarified Thursday afternoon that those 200 included people from FHSU and the public — very few of whom were close contacts of the student-athlete. CLARIFIED, 3:20 p.m. Thursday.

Only one person in the 200 tested positive for COVID-19. That test was sequenced at the state lab and was determined not to be related to the variant.

Wastewater testing for COVID-19 is being done statewide. Norman said there was an uptick in the presence of the virus in the wastewater in Ellis County during the week prior to the variant being found.

"On balance, I think everything came out pretty well, but there is a long period of time until we breathe a sigh of relief in this particular county," Norman said.

The state has doubled its capacity for genomic testing, analyzing about 350 samples from all over the state every week for the presence of COVID-19 variants.

Vaccine rollout

Norman said statewide the numbers of new COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths are coming down.

"We still have our hands full, but the vaccine is rolling out, and I think in a very good way," Norman said.

Norman said 82 percent of residents in skilled nursing facilities have had at least received their first doses. Those clinics will continue through March as the residents receive their second doses.

Norman encouraged Kansas residents to go to the Kansas Department of Health website to the Find My Vaccine webpage to locate a vaccination site. 

CLICK HERE for information on how to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccination in Ellis County.

However, he said right now the state has more sites than it has vaccines.

Norman said he anticipated the vaccination rate will jump as more vaccinations are approved for use, especially the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which only requires one dose.

An audience member asked if the state will be getting back to "normal" anytime soon to an environment in which community festivals and weddings can be celebrated.

Norman said the state needs about five times more vaccine than it is currently receiving to do that any time soon.

The state is administering about 80,000 doses a week, but has about 1.7 million people who need the vaccine, he said.