COVID patient load is ‘way too big,’ KU health official sounds the alarm

Kansas City health officials continued Friday to ask Kansas Citians to mask up again, even if local governments don’t mandate it.

The plea came during the daily COVID briefing by the University of Kansas Health System, which reported a slight drop in its COVID patients after a week of increases.

On Friday, the hospital had 56 COVID patients, down from 60 on Thursday. A dozen patients are in the ICU and seven are on ventilators.

“Still a big number and actually way too big of a number,” said chief medical officer Dr. Steve Stites.

Cases double at Saint Luke’s

Also on Friday, Saint Luke’s Health System reported 82 COVID patients among its 16 locations, the highest number it had seen since mid-February.

HCA Midwest also reported rising COVID admissions, with more than 80 in its hospitals, which include Research Medical Center and Overland Park Regional Medical Center. That compares to more than 200 COVID patients at the peak of the pandemic last spring, according to hospital spokeswoman Christine Hamele.

On Thursday Stites reported that local hospital leaders are prepared to call for mask mandates and social distancing to be reinstated across the region because the hospitals are filing up. He described the situation as “being under siege.”

“You heard us say yesterday that it may be time to think about masking up again,” Stites said. “And one of the things we wanted to stress was the reason that’s so important is because, well, to borrow from ‘Star Trek ‘ … when trouble comes, shields up.

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“When trouble comes, mask up. And right now trouble’s here with the delta virus.”

Masks and vaccines

Nationally, health officials are discussing whether vaccinated people need to wear masks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks in most situations.

But the surge of the game-changing delta variant, which is much more transmissible than the original virus, is making health officials think twice.

Someone infected with the virus last year could infect two to three other people. But someone tagged by the delta virus can infect six other people, Stites said.

“So the concern for those who are immunized is, if you are around a group of people and you’ve all been vaccinated, you’re probably fine,” he said.

“But if you’re around a lot of unvaccinated people, there is a good chance that you could still get the delta virus and you might transmit it. We don’t know what that likelihood is and that’s what’s making everybody just a little nervous.

“We’re not sure once you’ve been vaccinated how much of a vector you can be. As a person who may have gotten it, even if you’re vaccinated you’re probably gonna be asymptomatic. The concern’s going to be can you transmit it to someone who hasn’t been vaccinated.

“This is the pandemic now of the unvaccinated.”

Nationally, 99% of people infected with the delta virus are unvaccinated, said Stites. Closer to home, more than 90% of the COVID-19 patients at HCA Midwest hospitals are not vaccinated, Hamele said.

“There is a message here,” said Stites.

Looking at rising COVID cases locally makes him nervous.

“And you start thinking, as an individual, regardless of what political leaders say … they have to walk a lot of lines … as an individual citizen, what’s the right thing to do?” he said.

“i think the right thing to do is be on the defensive. Mask up.”

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