The number of COVID-19 cases in Ellis County is about as high as it has been during any point in the pandemic, according to Jason Kennedy, Ellis County Health Services director.


Kennedy said mortality rates "haven’t increased as alarmingly fast," and is urging residents to be smart to mitigate the spread of the virus.


"We need everybody to make small changes in their lives," Kennedy said. "We need people to be smart, we need people to be safe, we need people to listen, we need people to make personal choices that protect not only themselves but their loved ones."


Ellis County reported 84 new cases of COVID-19 between Wednesday and Friday, according to the county’s coronavirus dashboard. The county currently sits at 340 active cases as of Friday.


People 65 years old and older account for 13.2% of the cases in Kansas, but make up 83.5% of the virus-related deaths as of Wednesday, Kennedy said. He said high-risk residents, like the older population, need to take additional precautions to protect themselves.


Kennedy recommended older communities wear masks and avoid crowds, which includes going out to restaurants, weddings and dances, among other events.


He said there isn’t a set number of people that are safe to gather with, saying a group of 10 people with one positive case can be more dangerous than a group of 1,000 people with zero positive cases.


While no group gathering is completely safe, he said smaller gatherings with close family members, like Thanksgiving, can be done "somewhat safely" if everyone is taking precautions.


"I am not canceling Thanksgiving in Ellis County," Kennedy said. "We can’t avoid all social contacts. We are social creatures and we need those social contacts to keep us healthy."


Kennedy said he isn’t going to issue any "safer-at-home" orders, but said residents need to adjust to life during the pandemic because the virus isn’t going away anytime soon.


He said the county’s advice hasn’t changed throughout the pandemic and avoiding crowds, social distancing, wearing masks and washing your hands are the best ways to stay safe.


"It’s a COVID year," he said. "We kind of have to modify what we are doing to try and help keep people safe."