KANSAS CITY, Mo — The omicron variant continues to spread rapidly putting health departments in both Kansas and Missouri on edge this holiday weekend as families gather.
In the days leading up to this year’s holiday break, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported seeing an increase of people at testing sites and an increase in vaccination rates.
“We are seeing both testing and vaccination go up in state, we’ve seen a 60% increase in the number of tests per day in Kansas” Dr. Joan Duwve, deputy state health officer for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said. “To me, that is great news because it tells me Kansans are trying to do the right thing, they want to know before they go.”
With people scrambling to get their tests done, testing sites have struggled to keep up with the demand.
On Tuesday, the Jackson County Health Department tweeted out an alert saying one of its sites was no longer accepting walk-ins.
Retailers also ran out of certain at home testing kits both in-store and online.
Due to high demand, we can no longer accept walk-ins at today’s testing site (12/22). Those with appointments will be tested.— Jackson County Health Department (@JacksonCountyHD) December 22, 2021
The state is providing free walk-in testing today + tomorrow from 10-6 p.m. at Heavy Construction Laborers #663. More info ➡️https://t.co/OQ82kVrYHS. pic.twitter.com/Lg4dd65mlT
“People are wanting to get tested before gathering with family,” Lisa Cox, communications director for Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said. “It’s unfortunate supply hasn’t been able to keep up lately for those rapid tests available commercially.”
Sequencing efforts continue among both states to identify the presence of the omicron variant.
In Missouri, out of the 600 samples sequenced each week less than 1% of cases are being linked to the variant, according to Cox.
“You probably remember that Missouri was the first state to be impacted by delta variant back in May and really increased in summer months,” said Cox, “But omicron, while we know that it’s here and present throughout the the state, we have not seen the surge that other states have seen.”
In Kansas, health officials are focused on sequencing certain tests that show indicators of the omicron variant.
“With omicron, we know that there is a particular signal that we can look for in a test to tell whether it’s likely to be Omicron or not,” Dr. Duwve said. “If it’s likely to be omicron, we have prioritized sampling those test as well.”
Another factor working against both Kansas and Missouri health agencies is a surge in flu cases.
In Missouri, flu cases have nearly doubled each week within the last three weeks.
Kansas is also seeing a similar trend. Flu cases are up compared to this time last year, in line with what was seen before the pandemic.
“Flu cases are circulating and causing a lot of hospitalizations,” Dr. Duwve said.
To help further protect you and your family this holiday season, health experts are recommending you get both your COVID-19 and flu shots, wear a mask if you’re gathering with family indoors and avoid gatherings if you haven’t been vaccinated.
Vaccine and testing information can be found on your state health department's website.
“All the mixing and mingling just adds to the probability of spreading that disease even further,” Cox said.
Testing is also recommended as people return from holiday gatherings.