CLAY COUNTY — An outbreak of COVID-19 at an area nursing home facility is continuing to cause deaths among the high-risk population of older adults.

According to Clay County Public Health Center, as of Thursday, June 25, COVID-19 attributed to 10 deaths and 88 total cases at Pleasant Valley Manor Care Center off Sobbie Road in Pleasant Valley. The death toll had climbed by one from June 24. The nine deaths reported as of 4:30 p.m. June 24, Clay County Public Health Center Communications Specialist Kelsey Neth said, accounted for all but two of the reporting jurisdiction’s 11 overall deaths.

As of Friday, June 26, the reporting agency’s total deaths climbed by one more case for a total of 12. Clay County Public Health Center reports cases that occur in county residents who reside outside Kansas City. Cases from Kansas City residents in Clay County are reported by Kansas City Health Department.

In contrast to the Pleasant Valley facility, there have been zero deaths associated with another nursing home facility outbreak at Ashton Court in Liberty. As of June 25, that facility, located off West College Drive, had a total of 16 cases but no deaths.

It is unclear why deaths are impacting one care facility and not the other. More details as to what county public health officials attribute this difference to will be reported as they become available.

County cases overall

In total, as of 4:30 p.m. Friday, there have 767 cases of COVID-19 reported in Clay County with 345 reported by Clay County Public Health Center and 422 reported by Kansas City Health Department. There have been a total of 18 deaths, with 12 being non-Kansas City residents and six being Kansas City residents.

While deaths associated with the Pleasant Valley care center continue to rise and the county continues to see a steady increase in the overall number of cases, Neth said it isn’t clear if the area is experiencing a second wave of infections as reported in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area by other news outlets.

“While the seven-day average for Clay County has periodically increased within the past few weeks, when looking at the trends regarding that average, there has not really been a clear-cut first wave, let alone a second wave,” she said. “What we do know is this: Clay County continues to see cases of COVID-19 just like we have since March and it remains as important now as it was before for everyone to take preventative action to minimize spread. Those actions include wearing a face mask in public, keeping 6 feet away from others, frequently washing and disinfecting hands and staying home if high-risk or sick.”

While cases continue to rise as the community continues to reopen and testing capacity increases, CCPHC’s recovery dashboard, online at www.clayhealth.com, does show more people are recovering from the virus than not. Of the 345 overall positives since tracking began in March, 221 have been released from isolation and 42 of the 57 who were hospitalized are no longer in the hospital. According to CCPHC, those isolated are defined as those currently under public health monitoring. Those released from isolation are those that completed 10 days since symptom onset or testing date or 10 days after hospital discharge and were fever-free for at least three days with improving respiratory symptoms.

While more people are recovering from the virus in CCPHC’s jurisdiction, the center’s sustained reduction in cases has a yellow score on a stoplight scale of green to red because cases continue to be reported.

“The average number of cases, however, continues to be low relative to other jurisdictions in the region. With hospital and testing capacity continuing to be strong, we can cautiously move forward with recovery,” states the county health center dashboard.

While case counts continue to be low compared to other regions, the public health center is operating over capacity, receiving a red stoplight score.

“The Clay County Public Health Center can maintain active case and contact isolation monitoring, however, we are operating over capacity. We are working to increase staffing capacity through federal funding as we move forward with recovery,” states the public health recovery dashboard. The health agency is currently using CARES Act funds to hire staff to conduct contact tracing.

“Our investigation is where it needs to be in terms of contacting initial contacts of positive cases, but in terms of doing that extensive contact tracing, we are just not where we want to be. A lot of that, … has to do with us just still being in the process of hiring more people to assist us,” said Neth.

Despite the amount of wide community spread, Neth said the center’s goal is to be able to adequately trace contact for all reported cases.

“The more contact tracers we have, the more help with that we have, the more we will be able to look further back and identify trends and things like that,” she said.

Contact tracing of all cases in the public health agency’s reporting jurisdiction includes the case of a Liberty police department employee who has tested positive, said Neth.

“Liberty has been transparent about that in terms of one of their employees has tested positive. Obviously, we are aware of that. We’ve been working with them, as with anyone else that has tested positive, to do some of that contact tracing,” she said. “Liberty took on the role of doing the internal contact tracing in seeing what officers or other staff that the person closely interacted with. It’s really been a partnership. They are doing the internal part and we are doing the more external contact tracing.” External tracing includes overall community or public contact that may have occurred.

The news comes at the same time added health measures are being implemented in Kansas City. As of Monday, June 29, all employees or visitors to any place of public accommodation must wear face coverings in an area or while performing an activity that involves close contact or proximity to co-workers or the public where 6 feet of separation is not feasible. The order is effective through July 12.

“Our country’s leading health and scientific experts have indicated in no uncertain terms that mask-wearing is the most effective way to curb the spread of COVID-19,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said at a press conference last week about the requirement.

While the mask requirement impacts the portion of Kansas City in Clay County, the requirement does not apply to elsewhere in Clay County as no similar order has been put in place by Clay County Public Health Center.

Managing Editor Amanda Lubinski can be reached at amanda.lubinski@mycouriertribune.com or 903-6001.