The Johnson County Health Department has struggled in the past approximately two week period with reaching many of the individuals within Johnson County who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Public Health Director Julie Bush.

Bush has requested that anyone who has tested positive recently and hasn’t received a call within 24 hours of their test date to call the health department, even though the department is still currently inundated with calls on a daily basis. The number to reach the JCHD is (606) 789-2590, and Bush said contact tracing is currently difficult as many calls are reaching disconnected numbers, or going straight to voicemail, presumably because many in the county do not have cell service at home.

With so many of the phone-based options not currently working, Bush has said that the department has taken to sending letters to those with positive test results, although the likelihood of receiving a reply from these letters is very low. Bush also added that, if someone tests for COVID-19, it is imperative that they quarantine until they receive their results.

Currently, as of Monday, Sept. 13, Johnson County has 356 active cases of COVID-19, with 14 currently hospitalized, and more deaths reported over the past week, bringing the total number of deaths to 49. This means that Johnson County has now seen a total of 3,539 cases and 3,134 have recovered.

Bush said that, as of Sunday, Sept. 12, with one day not being reported due to the Labor Day weekend, a week and a half into September, 401 cases had been reported, more than half of the total cases for all of August.

“That’s concerning,” Bush said. “For the first through the 12th, counting 11 days reporting, we had 5 deaths to report, which is basically a death every other day. That is very concerning to me.”

In the always continuing drive to seek herd immunity through vaccination, Bush said that the idea that being unvaccinated and unmasked in public is a personal choice simply doesn’t hold water -- although you have that choice, when cases rise, that doesn’t happen in a vacuum on a per-event or per-gathering basis, because even those who choose to wear masks or don’t support public gatherings and are in favor of limiting them have the choice to not attend, they are still required to interface with the public for essentials, like trips to the grocery store, work or school, meaning that when cases rise, they affect even those attempting to isolate as much as possible. Beyond that, Bush said, with our current incidence rate in Johnson County, it is best to behave as though you are always being exposed, and masking has been shown to be effective in reducing the spread of the virus.

Equally important, Bush said, was protecting your neighbor, and that is another reason that masking was still important, especially for those who have chosen to remain unvaccinated.

“We need to respect our neighbor, love one another and love our neighbors. It’s not just that I wear my mask for myself, I wear it for you as well. I think we need to remind ourselves of that from time to time, because our decisions don’t just affect us. I can make the decision to wear or not wear a mask, but I choose to wear a mask, because, even though I may not be directly in contact with someone doesn’t mean that most of us don’t have contact with someone indirectly,” Bush said. “Even if I don’t have direct contact with somebody, it could still come into my home, maybe my spouse brings it home from his job, or maybe my kids bring it home from school.

“The reality is, what we’re seeing, based on the numbers, if you’re not vaccinated, you have an extremely high risk of catching COVID,” Bush continued. “That’s just the reality of it. If you go out, if you don’t stay in your home, if you go out in the public at all, if you have a job, or you go to school or you go to Walmart or a grocery store, if you’re in the public, then you might as well just realize that you’re going to be exposed, where our county is in the red ... red is accelerated, it’s not just community spread, we’re beyond that ... it’s out there, it’s heavily out there, so wearing a mask is just one way that we can protect each other.”

Bush said the primary concern was second-contact transmission to the vulnerable or those who can’t be vaccinated, such as our children.

“That’s the concern and that’s what we’re seeing,” Bush said. “If you’re not vaccinated, you need to be wearing a mask. Because the transmission is so much higher among unvaccinated people, from person to person, and we know that mask-to-mask transmission is very low.

“You don’t want to take it home to your kids either. These kids under 12 don’t have a choice, they can’t be vaccinated right now, it’s not approved. They’re vulnerable, and it’s not like the COVID of last year, with Delta, transmission is so much higher and  viral load is so much higher and kids are being affected, kids are on vents, kids are in the hospital and they’re sick,” Bush continued. “I really want to stress to people, if you’re not going to wear a mask for yourself, wear it for somebody else. Wear it for children who cannot be vaccinated.”

The Johnson County Health Department continues to offer free, walk-in vaccination clinics every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. or until vaccine supply is exhausted. For more information, or to notify the JCHD that you have been confirmed positive, call, (606) 789-2590, or visit the JCHD’s Facebook page by searching for “Johnson County Health Dept.”