Johnson County

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

WICHITA, Kansas — Contact tracing is a key component of stopping the spread of infectious or sexually transmitted diseases, and has been for years. It’s also the linchpin in Kansas counties’ plans to effectively reopen and isolate cases of the coronavirus.

“The volume has become quite a bit larger than anything we’ve really ever dealt with,” Johnson County epidemiologist Elizabeth Holzschuh said.

The two Johnson County long-term care facilities with the most coronavirus cases are both owned by large out-of-town companies with senior living facilities in multiple states.

Johnson County Commissioners wrestled with their new reality on Thursday, saying they’re getting calls from constituents worried about the coronavirus, wondering about the costs to society and the economy from all the business shutdowns and stay-home orders.

By the end of their weekly meeting, they’d directed public health officials to develop a logistics plan as soon as possible, with costs identified, to ramp up coronavirus testing in the county, using private labs if necessary.

As word spread about the ordeal surrounding the first coronavirus death in Johnson County, Kansas, first through Joanna Wilson's Facebook updates and then through media reports, the metro area got its first glimpse of the health care system struggling to keep up — and the pain of necessary quarantine.

"We don't have a clue where he picked this up," Joanna Wilson told KCUR. The couple hadn't traveled recently. "We've gone to church, he goes to Home Depot, we run in Walmart," she said.

Johnson County, Kansas, has logged its first fatality from the coronavirus, according to officials with the county's health department.

The victim is a man in his 70s who had underlying health conditions, said Barbara Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the department. The man was being treated at a Johnson County hospital. Mitchell declined to say which hospital or release further details.

Johnson County health officials scaled back testing for coronavirus this week after determining that the county has community transmission.

Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, says the state needs to prioritize testing in other places due to limited test supplies. But some public experts say the move will limit efforts to combat COVID-19.

Update: 7:30 p.m.

A 70-year-old man who lived in a long-term care facility in Wyandotte County is the first known death from the new coronavirus in Kansas, state officials said Thursday night.

Kansas also has declared a state of emergency, which gives the government more power to marshal resources and triggers the state's response plan.

Matt Garrett / Johnson County Parks and Recreation District

SHAWNEE, Kansas — Field biologist Matt Garrett kept a close eye on the smoke rising from a patch of prairie that burned during a controlled fire. He stayed in constant communication with his team.

“The sun is going to hit this and warm the soil and you’re going to see these native prairie plants emerging really soon out of this charred landscape,” Garrett said, describing the burn the day after.

It’s a routine to strengthen the health of a prairie that happens every spring all across Kansas’ Flint Hills. But Garrett wasn't in the Flint Hills. He burned part of Shawnee Mission Park in Johnson County, less than a mile from homes and businesses.

Stephan Bisaha / Kansas News Service

WICHITA, Kansas — This is a tale of two types of Kansas cities: those that had the foresight to own their own streetlights and those that do not.

For Willie Vader, the Johnson County Courthouse can't be demolished soon enough. 

"That is the single biggest thing that could help downtown Olathe, what goes in there after that building comes down," Vader said. 

He owns Vader's Bar and Deli on Cherry Street, just east of the courthouse. The courthouse is nearly 70 years old and will be replaced by a bigger, more up-to-date one that's currently being built a block north. The new courthouse is expected to open in early 2021, and the plan is to tear the old one down shortly after. 

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