The COVID-19 pandemic once again dominated the headlines in 2021, but it certainly wasn’t the only major news story to impact the lives of Miami County residents.
A group of rural county residents captured attention when they fought for the creation of a new city named Golden, and the Osawatomie State Hospital announced it would start taking voluntary admissions for the first time since 2015.
There also was a major election in 2021 that led to new mayors in the county’s largest four cities, as well as the creation of a joint recreation commission between the city of Paola and USD 368.
Those are just a few of the stories featured in our annual Year in Review, which takes a look back at the top 10 stories of 2021.
Links to all 10 top stories can be found below.
The volume of COVID-19 cases countywide fluctuated throughout 2021.
So did the temperature in county, city and school board meeting rooms as debates intensified throughout the year regarding everything from mask mandates to modified quarantine letters.
As cases declined and vaccinations increased, the call to end mask mandates heightened at County Commission meetings in March.
Miami County had 15 active cases and a positivity rate of 4.21 percent in early March.
A statewide mask mandate that began with a governor’s executive order in fall 2020 ended in Miami County when that order expired March 31 because the county did not implement its own mandate.
The cities of Paola and Osawatomie had their own mask mandates, approved by their City Councils, which remained in place after the statewide mandate ended.
Paola’s mask mandate officially ended April 21, and Osawatomie’s mask mandate was lifted effective May 19.
Masks were made optional in Paola USD 368, Louisburg USD 416 and Osawatomie USD 367 to begin the school year when the three districts approved their safe return to school plans prior to the first day of classes in August.
Despite a few outbreaks that required masks to be implemented in certain classrooms and activity settings, masks generally remained optional through the fall semester.
Criticism was leveled at school board and County Commission meetings about the use of modified quarantine letters regarding close contacts. Some parents and school board members were critical of the county’s close contact letter because they considered it to be an unenforceable document.
Paola and Osawatomie school board members approved a new COVID-19 notification letter during special meetings Nov. 22, scaling back previous virus protocols. The new notification letters approved by the Paola and Osawatomie school boards were identical. The Louisburg school district was already sending out a similarly worded notification letter that was previously approved by the board.
Vaccinations and tests continued to ramp up under the guidance of the Miami County Health Department (MCHD) and with assistance from its pharmacy partners.
The health department conducts weekly vaccination clinics on Mondays.
“Every Monday, we’re seeing around 200 people for vaccine clinic,” MCHD Director Christena Beer told commissioners on Dec. 29.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reported that as of Dec. 29 nearly 50 percent of Miami County residents over the age of 5 had received one vaccine dose and nearly 45 percent had completed the vaccination series.
Beer told commissioners on Dec. 29 thousands of local residents have been tested in the past two years.
“We’ve had approximately 21,290 people tested in Miami County with at least one test since the beginning,” Beer said.
Cases ramped up again in December. County commissioners learned that between Dec. 15 and Dec. 29, the county recorded 372 new cases and had a positivity rate of over 14 percent.
The county’s death toll nearly doubled in the last nine months of 2021, rising from 41 deaths as of March 8 to 78 deaths by Dec. 29.
By year’s end, Miami County had recorded 5,360 COVID-19 cases, 196 hospitalizations, 38 intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and 78 deaths since the first case was reported in the county almost two years ago.
County residents had good reason to embrace a bright note in the fight against COVID-19 in 2021.
Dr. Barney Graham, a 1971 graduate of Paola High School and former deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, has been recognized as one of the leading architects of the COVID-19 vaccines.
A familiar face has taken the helm of the Miami County Health Department.
Christena Beer has been named the new Miami County Health Director. She previously served the health department as assistant health director and nurse epidemiologist.
Beer is replacing longtime Miami County Health Director Rita McKoon. McKoon and fellow health department employee Ann Yackle retired in December after a combined 78 years of service to the county.
Beer was announced as the new health director at the Dec. 29 Miami County Commission meeting.
“I appreciate the opportunity to serve Miami County in this capacity,” Beer said.
Beer was named the 2020 Miami County Employee of the Year for her exceptional and tireless work in dealing with the pandemic.
She was presented with a plaque during a commission meeting in spring 2021 and received a standing ovation from commissioners, staff members and the public.
At the Dec. 29 meeting, Commission Chairman Rob Roberts expressed his support of Beer and asked her to keep them up to date on the needs of the health department via a monthly meeting.
“It’s important for you and your staff to know we have your back,” Roberts said.