Metro health leaders stress need for virus testing

By Jeff Fox

Kansas City area public health directors are reminding the public that anyone exposed to COVID-19 should be tested, regardless of whether they are showing symptoms.

“With the number of infections increasing across the metro, we need more testing, not less, to identify new cases and stop further transmission,” Gary Zaborac, director of the Clay County Public Health Center, is quoted as saying in release posted Thursday by 10 area health departments. “Not testing all possible close contacts impacts the ability of local health departments to effectively investigate cases and conduct contact tracing – the two primary tools we have to slow the spread of this disease.”

Those departments, which include the Jackson County Health Department, are dismissing the most recent guidance update from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which last week suggested that people exposed to the virus but not showing symptoms don’t need testing. The state of Missouri, like many other states and local jurisdictions across the country, is rejecting the CDC’s shift as well.

An exposure to the disease generally means being within six feet of someone with COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more.

So the effect is that guidelines and protocols remain unchanged: Practice good hygiene – face masks, hand washing, social distancing, cleaning high-touch surfaces, staying home when sick  – and if exposed get tested and go into quarantine for two weeks.

The disease can have an incubation period of two to 14 days. The 14-day quarantine is recommended because a person could be asymptomatic and have a false negative on a test, meaning that person could have and spread the disease.

“Science demonstrates that people infected with COVID-19 can spread the virus to family, friends and members of their community, even if they show no symptoms,” said Juliann Van Liew, director of the Unified Government Public Health Department. “In order to control the pandemic, it’s incredibly important that we provide testing for everyone who has been exposed and those considered at risk.”

The Kansas City area has been in what the federal government calls the red zone – a test positivity rate of 10 percent or higher – for some time, and this week the chief medical officers and other doctors of several metro hospitals urged the public to step it up with face masks and avoiding crowds, as well as the other basic precautions. They said COVID is on the verge of exponential growth in the Kansas City area.

They said area hospitalizations – with 90 COVID admissions a day – are at their highest point of the pandemic so far. They are concerned that COVID on top of the usual autumn rise in admissions during the cold-and-flu season will strain hospitals to the point of compromising care for everyone.

“We have the power to change that outcome,” said Dr. Steven Stites, chief medical officer of the University of Kansas Health System,