TOPEKA — Amid concerns COVID-19 will worsen as the temperature drops, Kansas hospital leaders are warning of rapidly rising case numbers leading to poor outcomes and limiting bed space.
Hospital administrators from across Kansas, and some from Missouri, all reported close to triple the number of infected patients requiring standard care and those in need of more in-depth attention or a ventilator. With people traveling for the holidays and the omicron variant looming, they are warning Kansans to intensify pandemic protocols.
Between 80% and 90% of positive cases were unvaccinated individuals and almost all serious cases were unvaccinated people, hospital leaders said. Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher, an infectious disease physician at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and deputy health director for Douglas County, said wearing a mask and getting vaccinated is the main key to reducing case numbers and load for hospital staff.
“For those who got vaccinated make sure you get your booster,” Schrimsher said. “I would also be rethinking what you are doing for the holidays? Look for smaller gatherings trying to stay with your own household, not traveling across the country.”
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 4,297 new cases, 14 new deaths and 103 more hospitalizations since Wednesday bringing total cases to 497, 789 and total deaths to 6,909.
Schrimsher and other hospital representatives reported the strain on doctors and nurses was reaching early pandemic levels. In some cases, this has meant canceling elective surgeries to focus on those requiring more immediate attention.
Jackie Hyland, chief medical officer of the University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus in Topeka, said they have had to cancel or reschedule about eight inpatient surgeries because beds are unavailable with increasing COVID-19 case numbers.
“Patients are upset. A lot of them are crying and don’t understand,” Hyland said. “They have been doing a lot of different things to get organized to have surgery, so it’s a big disruption not being able to do a big surgery.”
Bordering states are also seeing similar issues, and hospitals in Kansas have been receiving calls regarding transfer requests. Hospitals reported hearing from health care sites in Arkansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.
Steven Stites, chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Health System, said they usually accept around 65% to 70% of transfer requests but that number is down to about 25%.
“We simply don’t have the beds to accept patients into and even if you have a bed sometimes it’s very difficult to find staff,” Stites said. “These are difficult times and again a warning to us all that if we’re not going to try to bend the curve is going to bend us.”
For those planning to travel during this surge, hospital administrators are recommending masking up, being fully vaccinated and getting tested before meeting with family. In some locations, like Walmart, a pack of rapid tests can cost as low as $14.
They also recommended well-ventilated areas for family gatherings or outdoor spaces if possible.
“Assessing the risk, understanding about masking, about well-ventilated areas rather than indoor areas, distancing and of course vaccination helps,” said Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention for KU Health System. “If you have not received your primary series, please get that and get influenza vaccine as well. If you are in those criteria for getting that booster, please get that booster dose.”
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