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WalletHub: Kansas #1 of “Safest States During COVID-19”

KANSAS – WalletHub ranks Kansas #1 of the “Safest States During COVID-19” pandemic.

The financial service states around 67% of the population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and new cases are on a general downward trend since the start of the year. So, WalletHub today released updated rankings for the “Safest States During COVID-19.” You can see a map ranking each state below, or click here.

Oklahoma is ranked #20, Missouri is ranked #24 and Arkansas is ranked #31.

Source: WalletHub

How did WalletHub Rank the States?

In order to find out the safest states during the COVID-19 pandemic, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across five key metrics. The company’s data set includes the level of COVID-19 community transmission, the rates of positive testing, hospitalizations and death, as well as the share of the eligible population getting vaccinated.

You can find the full list and more about WalletHub’s methodology here.

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Covid vaccines greenlit for youngest children

JOPLIN, Mo.–Nationwide, infants, and toddlers will be up next in eligibility to get their Covid vaccines. The FDA and CDC both gave the green light for kids to get the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine on Saturday. State health departments in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma have authorized kids aged six months to four years to get either a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Covid-19 vaccines are now available to children as young as six months old, but it may be a while before local kids can get them.

“We have, pediatric patients that have, different types of chronic illnesses. So this just creates that level of protection and safeguard, if you will, for our patients and whose parents who maybe are concerned about that,” said Jessica Liberty, manager of infection prevention at Freeman Health System.

Freeman pediatricians have already been getting calls about the vaccine for kids, and while they don’t have any available yet, they are ready to answer any questions parents may have.

“It was just recently approved. We do know that, you know, if you are a parent who would like your kid to be vaccinated for Covid, or if you have some questions about it, you know, your best route would be to call your pediatrician and to talk to them…here in the next few weeks, Freeman will be meeting to discuss options available for the community for giving their pediatric vaccine.”

Liberty says they aren’t seeing many kids hospitalized due to Covid, and these vaccines just add another layer of protection. 

“We have not in the very recent past had any admissions that were pediatric age. So that’s really encouraging to see those that have Covid at this point are recovering at home…when you get vaccinated, not only are you protecting yourself, but you’re also protecting other special loved ones that maybe are at higher risk.”

Liberty added that with masking easing up, she recommends talking with your pediatrician about the vaccine. 

Extra: Children age 6 months and up are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in Missouri

(JEFFERSON CITY, MO) – The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has adopted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation for children down to 6 months of age to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. The CDC’s recommendation was made after analyzing substantial data from clinical trials involving thousands of children, confirming the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness for children in this age group. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for children down to 6 months of age on June 17.

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine: Now authorized to be given to children ages 6 months-4 years in three doses, with a 3-week interval between the first two doses, followed by a third dose at least 8 weeks after the second dose.
Moderna vaccine: Now authorized to be given to children 6 months-5 years in two doses with 28 days between the two doses.
Previously, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was authorized for use in individuals ages 5 and older, and the Moderna vaccine was authorized for those 18 and older. The Moderna vaccine for those ages 6-17 is scheduled for discussion among members of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on June 23.

There have been over 2 million confirmed cases of COVID among children 6 months through 4 years of age, according to CDC data. Of those cases, over 200 children have died after contracting the virus. COVID-19 is the fifth most common cause of death in children under age 5.

Missourians are encouraged to stay up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccines to ensure maximum protection. Sufficient supplies of vaccines are available throughout the state.

Missouri providers who pre-ordered vaccines for children down to 6 months of age are listed at MOStopsCovid.com, and Vaccines.gov will soon list locations on an interactive map where vaccines are available. Those who ordered Pfizer-BioNTech are experiencing manufacturer delivery delays. Contact the provider before arriving. You can also text your ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find locations near you.

 

 

 

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Wastewater used to detect viruses throughout Missouri

NEWTON COUNTY, Mo.–Researchers at the University of Missouri have been using wastewater samples throughout the pandemic to gain a better insight of what Covid-19 cases look like throughout the state.

Now, it’s being used to see what other illnesses are present in our communities as well.

It may seem a little gross…but it may also be the easiest way to detect the spread of various viruses. 

“Poop doesn’t lie, so we can always figure out what’s really going on”, said Marc Johnson. “I mean, we we can’t really see the future. But if a new lineage moves into a sewer shed that is highly contagious, without an icon, we could say very reliably, you’re going to see an increase because this guy is more contagious than what was there before.”

Johnson, a professor at the University of Missouri’s School of Medicine has been working on the Sewer shed project since May 2020. The team of wastewater operators throughout Missouri collects samples to send to Johnson’s office.

“We take this little sample that we extract the RNA from, just like you would in a clinical lab. And we use qPCR the same kind of PCR tests that you use to test if you’re infected. The only difference is we do it in such a way that we can say not only whether it’s present, but how much it’s present.”

The testing has already helped out local health departments, like Newton County’s generate a better understanding of diseases present in the community.

Larry Bergner, administrator for the Newton County Health Department says the reports he receives of the watershed testing provide a helpful overview of community virus levels.

“I can kind of anticipate what’s coming,” Bergner said.

He says it could be helpful when dealing with other endemic diseases as well.

“Any virus can be tested in the sewer shed. So whether it’s Flu or any other type of virus, the Avian Bird Flu, some of those other types that we’ve seen through the years. We’re starting to get technology where we can kind of see that in the sewer shed and then we can anticipate and prepare for it. It is very helpful tool,” said Bergner.

The way samples are collected could paint a clearer picture of what’s actually spreading throughout communities.

“This isn’t the only read out that health departments get, but it’s a good, reliable one. One that’s not affected by your typical factors,” Johnson said. 

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Bill protects doctors who prescribe 2 controversial drugs

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers pass a bill to help protect doctors who prescribe ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.

The bill would prohibit the medical licensing board from disciplining doctors who prescribe the drugs. It would also bar pharmacists from questioning doctors who prescribe the drugs.

“PHYSICIAN AND PHARMACIST PRESCRIPTION AND DISPENSATION OF IVERMECTIN AND HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE (Sections 334.100 and 338.055)

This bill prohibits the State Board of Registration for the Healing Arts from taking administrative action against a certificate of registration or authority, permit, or license required by this Chapter for any person due to the lawful dispensing, distributing, or selling of ivermectin tablets or hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets for human use in accordance with prescriber directions. A pharmacist cannot contact the prescribing physician or the patient to dispute the efficacy of ivermectin tablets or hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets for human use unless the physician or patient inquires of the pharmacist about the efficacy of ivermectin tablets or hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets.”

The provision is in a larger bill involving professional licensing. Both chambers passed the bill. It now heads to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk.

Republican Sen. Rick Brattin says he added the amendment because some doctors are worried they could lose their medical licenses for prescribing the drugs. That’s according to the Kansas City Star.

Some doctors prescribe the drugs to help treat COVID-19, but it quickly became a controversial topic across the U.S. While the FDA has not approved ivermectin for treating COVID-19, they have authorized the drug for humans to treat certain infections and skin conditions.

You can read the approved bill below, or click here.

Missouri House Bill 2149T

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Local health department weighs in on White House warning of possible COVID surge

PITTSBURG, Kan. – On Friday, the White House issued a warning about a possible surge in COVID cases this fall and winter. We spoke with the Crawford County Health Department about their thoughts on a possible surge and if they’re ready.

Teddi Van Kam with the Crawford County Health Department says they’re prepared should a potential surge in COVID cases happen. She says they have a Continuity Of Operations Plan, or “COOP” which keeps them prepared for any kind of disaster or outbreak. They also have other contingencies. Van Kam says “The nice thing is that we do have agreements with other agencies and programs so that if we did reach what we call a surge capacity that we could initiate, pull more people in.”

Van Kam says if a surge were to happen, she feels it’s less likely to be as serious as previous surges. “We have the advantage now of having numerous people vaccinated, so that makes a difference as well as there are different treatments available, there’s oral treatments, there’s IV treatments, so physicians and other care providers have a lot of tools in their tool belt to use.”

And thanks to those resources, she says it’s likely the health department’s role in a surge would be a little different. “If we were to see a lot more cases, if that were to happen, probably one of our big roles would be testing people and giving, administering vaccine.”

Van Kam feels another thing that would contribute to a less severe surge, is the public. She says they’re more familiar with what’s going on and what to do should COVID hit them. “When people aren’t mandated to things that often, when it’s of their own decision, they’re making the decision for themselves and their families, that they are often more likely to really do what’s right and what’s needed versus feeling like they’re being pressured.”

Future funding for a possible COVID surge has also come up at the federal level. Van Kam says in a worse case scenario, the health department has grants it can utilize to help fund necessary resources.

 

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Ascension Via Christi in Pittsburg announces they have 0 COVID patients as of Thursday morning

PITTSBURG, Kan. – Zero. That’s the number of COVID patients currently at Ascension Via Christi in Pittsburg. Staff says it’s been a long 25 months to get to this point.

This was once the isolated COVID ward at Ascension Via Christi. It was once taped off, completely separated from the rest of the hospital. In November of last year, the plastic came down, as the need for the special COVID ward, wore off. Janelle Wade says “It was very um…enlightening and uplifting to be able to take the red tape up off the floor and to be able to open things back up and you could just feel like a collective sigh from staff to just relieved that maybe the end was in sight.”

While the COVID ward is technically ‘closed’, Via Christi’s Director of Inpatient Services Janelle Wade says that doesn’t mean the hospital can’t still take COVID patients. “We are always prepared to take our COVID patients, we could do another surge, not that we want to, but we could, all of our rooms are still easily, we can put patients in them and we could stand up a ward in just a matter of hours, so we can do it, we’ve done it a couple of different times, and unfortunately we’ve gotten pretty good at it, so, we can do it, we just hope we don’t have to.”

With the governor’s announcement Thursday that the state would begin the transition to an endemic state, Wade says it brightens the light at the end of the tunnel. “We’re ready to move forward and consider it one of the many diseases that people are hospitalized with, we deal with the flu every year, we deal with heart attacks, so we are ready to have COVID be yet just another disease that every once in a while we have to deal with.”

As Wade mentioned, Via Christi still has rooms prepped for COVID patients and at this time, masking is still required in the hospital.

 

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Local impact of Missouri’s Covid-19 endemic response

NEOSHO, Mo.–“The Covid-19 crisis is over here in Missouri.”

Those were the words of Governor Mike Parson, as he announced that the Covid-19 pandemic, is to begin to move to an endemic on Friday. An endemic disease is always present, but predictable, like the flu.

Moving to an endemic will mean the state’s Covid-19 dashboard will be updated weekly, instead of daily, and services such as contact tracing will end.
In Newton county, they plan to make a few changes.

“We’re still going to try to gather information as to how many new cases we have per day and try to determine how many active cases we may have at any given time. But we’re not going to do so much of the contact tracing and now will give us time to actually go and kind of get our records together and organize those records and file them so that we’ll have easy access in the future,” said Larry Bergner, Administrator for the Newton County Health Department.

Usually, a whiteboard in the office of contract tracers for the Newton County Health Department is full of charts and numbers detailing Covid-19 cases throughout the county, but with how low cases are right now, Bergner says there’s not much need for it.

“So when you don’t see the hospitalization and you don’t see the severity of disease, then it becomes just like other things that we manage, like the flu and other diseases that we know it’s there. And we look for large spikes or large outbreak areas, but is and is not widespread that’s then the endemic instead of pandemic.”

Nurses with the Health Department say they let out a sigh of relief when hearing Missouri has reached this point.

“It’s like we’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s gone on for a long time,” said Michael Roberts, a nurse at the health department.

There was also reflection, on the uncertainty and fear that comes with a pandemic.

“There is really no rhyme or reason as to who was going to go, who it was going to reflect poorly, and who was going to be fine…it just affected everyone differently. And nobody knew why or how,” said Cheryl Grissom, a nurse at the health department.

Whatever the future brings, local health agencies like the health department say they are ready to step in.

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Kansas shifts to COVID-19 endemic response

PITTSBURG, Kan. – Kansas shifts from an emergency pandemic response to a COVID-19 endemic response. Governor Laura Kelly and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment made the announcement today.

On April 1, the KDHE will transition from emergency response to a ‘new normal.’

According to Governor Kelly’s office, that includes life with COVID-19 treated the same as other recurring diseases like the flu. However, Kansas officials say there will still be preparations for potential surges.

“Kansas is continuing the transition to a new phase of understanding and living with COVID-19,” Governor Laura Kelly said. “We know the pandemic is not over, however we now have the tools and knowledge obtained over the past two years to prevent or reduce the spread of the virus.”

According to Kelly’s Office, Kansas has given out over 7 million tests and more than 4 million vaccines. The state says at least 78% of eligible residents got at least one dose of a Covid vaccine.

“In our new normal, we will continue to ensure that Kansans have equitable access to life-saving vaccines, tests, and treatments. This shift does not mean that COVID is over, but rather we are working to manage the disease in a way that allows us to maintain a more normal life that is once again filled with friends, families and other loved ones,” said KDHE Secretary Janet Stanek.

Kansas Endemic Plan

Moving forward, the KDHE will work with Local Health Departments and stakeholders. The Department has created a plan to address six key areas to help ensure the safety and well-being of all Kansans:

  • Intervention: KDHE will continue to provide comprehensive guidance, while continuing to offer additional assistance to underserved and/or vulnerable populations.
  • Vaccination: KDHE will focus on making sure vulnerable populations have access to the COVID-19 vaccine while existing vaccine providers, including health care providers, pharmacists, hospitals, and LHDs, will continue to serve the broader population.
  • Treatment: KDHE will continue to ensure Kansans will be able to receive COVID-19 treatment across the State. Treatment distribution will shift away from public health entities and back to local health care providers.
  • Testing: KDHE will continue to support access to free testing across the state through community testing sites, LHDs, and K-12 schools as long as federal funding is available. In addition, the federal government provides direct testing support to Federally Qualified Health Centers and pharmacies around the state. To find a free testing location near you, go to knowbeforeyougoKS.com. KDHE testing support for Long Term Care Facilities will be phased out on May 15, 2022, and testing support for employers ends on June 30, 2022.
  • Monitoring: KDHE will continue to monitor data as reported by organizations and facilities across the state to understand the status of COVID-19 and proactively identify at-risk groups. They will reduce public reporting to once a week.
  • Communications: KDHE will continue to provide essential and accessible COVID information to keep Kansans safe and aware of any subsequent changes to COVID-19 response efforts.
    Across each of the above areas, KDHE will remain prepared to ramp up capacity to quickly respond to a surge and keep Kansans safe should the need arise.
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Missouri ends its COVID-19 crisis, moves to endemic response

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Governor Mike Parson announces an end to the COVID-19 crisis in Missouri. The state will be shifting to an endemic phase of the pandemic on Friday, April 1, 2022.

Parson held a press conference at the State Capitol today at today 3:30 pm. He’s discussing the status of Missouri’s COVID-19 response moving forward.

You can watch it above or on the KOAM News Now’s YouTube page. Department of Health and Senior Services Acting Director Paula Nickelson will also speak.

(Related: Freeman Health System says they are currently free of COVID cases)

Full Release from Missouri Gov. Parson’s Office

(JEFFERSON CITY, MO) – Today, during a press conference at the State Capitol, Governor Mike Parson announced an end to the COVID-19 crisis in Missouri and that the state will be shifting to an endemic phase of the pandemic on Friday, April 1, 2022.

A whole-of-government COVID-19 emergency response was taken for more than two years, an effort that responded to the needs of all Missourians during the global pandemic and sustained state operations as more was learned about the novel virus. Vaccines, testing resources, and treatments are now readily available for all Missourians, and much of the population now has some immunity to the virus.

“Over the past two years, we have learned a lot that will help us respond to future outbreaks and challenges that may come our way,” Governor Parson said. “We don’t know if this virus will ever completely go away, but we do know that there is no longer a need to live in crisis mode and that we can shift our response to meet the current needs of Missourians. The COVID-19 crisis is over in the state of Missouri, and we are moving on.”

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is expected to continue to circulate in communities, meaning it will be considered endemic like many other diseases. The endemicity also means that surveillance priority will change from monitoring case numbers to monitoring disease severity and societal impact as new waves of infection come and go. This transition does not minimize the continued importance of public health surveillance, investigation, and response activities, as is necessary to mitigate any disease.

“As we enter this phase of our state’s recovery, we continue to encourage Missourians to safeguard their own health and the health of loved ones through tried and true public health measures,” said Department of Health and Senior Services Acting Director Paula Nickelson. “Missourians should feel confident that we will remain vigilant when monitoring COVID-19 levels throughout the state.”

Over the past two years, the state was able to achieve some incredible milestones in responding to COVID-19:

Testing Capacity

  • More than 14 million tests performed by public health partners

Treatment Options

  • More than 81,000 treatment courses distributed by the State of Missouri

Vaccine Availability

  • More than 8.7 million doses administered by public health partners

In addition to vaccines, testing, and treatment options, which are some of the most effective tools to fight COVID-19, Missouri has expanded capabilities over the past two years in areas of personal protective equipment (PPE), hospital capacity, and data collection. These capabilities allow Missouri to adapt to changing needs regarding COVID-19 in the future.

Missouri’s approach moving forward will allow state and local health officials to closely monitor community level of COVID-19, determine which variants of SARS-CoV-2 are circulating through the genomic surveillance, and assess disease severity and impact of COVID-19-associated illnesses.

Beginning Friday, the Department of Health and Senior Services will provide weekly dashboard updates that will include 7-day case rate data, activity by region and county, statewide data on COVID-19 hospitalizations, and circulating virus variants. This is a flexible approach allowing accommodation for future surges, should they occur, and require more frequent updates and additional datasets.

More information about vaccines, testing resources, and treatment options along with the updated COVID-19 dashboard and details about this phase of the pandemic can be found by visiting health.mo.gov/coronavirus.

A booklet with more information regarding the transition to endemic phase can be found by clicking here. (or you can check it out below)

covid-19-recovery-march-2022

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Local health expert weighs in as CDC revises mask guidelines

NEOSHO, Mo.–New guidance from The CDC is aimed at helping communities across the county get back to normal life and suggests seventy percent of Americans can stop wearing masks, as long as they live in parts of the country with low levels of disease.

They suggest that Americans living in low Covid-19 risk areas can go maskless in public. 

But the new guidelines still recommend masking in counties at high risk–and ask to reconsider how to measure the needs for things such as mask-wearing. They no longer look at only the number of cases in the community, but also look at Covid-related hospital admissions.

In Newton County, the health department has seen cases on a downward trend.

“Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen a steady decline in our cases. new cases per day were actually in the single digits. we had been in the 20s and then we went just below 20,” said Larry Bergener, Administrator for the Newton County Health Deaprtment. 

Across the country, cases are on the decline as well. 

Schoolchildren in states like California, Oregon, and Washington are no longer required to wear masks as part of new indoor mask policies. 

While guidance seems to constantly be changing, Bergener says it just has to do with numbers changing. 

 “CDC, when numbers spike, they have a tendency to go with masks and social distancing.”

Due to low cases locally, Bergner says that the new guidance is in line with newton county’s numbers. 

“I think that especially with our numbers as low as they are, that the public can be confident to go out and enjoy activities as normal without wearing a mask. certainly, if you have underlying conditions, you might want to continue to wear the mask. but overall, for healthy people, the mask would not be required.”

And while numbers have remained low for a few weeks in the county, Bergner recommends taking the time to enjoy it.

There are currently six active Covid-19 cases in Newton County.