By JODI FORTINO
Kansas News Service
COVID-19-related deaths in Missouri hit 4,006 in updated data released by the state Tuesday, as officials on both sides of the state line worried that hospitals in rural and metropolitan areas were reaching capacity.
In Missouri, 19,716 new cases, including 60 deaths, were reported in the last seven days, according to a public health dashboard run by the state. In all, there have been nearly 303,000 total cases. In Kansas, there have been a total of 157,446 cases and 1,560 deaths, according to a state website.
In the nine-county Kansas City area (which encompasses both sides of the state line) 1,088 have died, according to the Kansas City Region COVID-19 Data Hub.
The University of Kansas Health System announced at its daily briefing Tuesday that 101 patients have active COVID-19 cases, of which 53 are in the intensive care unit and 24 are on ventilators.
KU experts said the increase of patients in the intensive care unit was a reason for concern as the hospital’s capacity continues to dwindle. Around 47% of ICU beds in Kansas City are taken up by coronavirus patients, according to the Kansas City Region COVID-19 Data Hub.
“In general, the data tells us that we're in for at least a couple of weeks more of challenges with the hospitalizations at this point,” said David Wild, KU’s vice president of performance improvement.
Wild said he believes the dip in the case numbers the week of Thanksgiving was likely a result of less people getting tested over the holiday weekend. The hospital tested around 1,000 over the four-day period, a number it normally tests in a day.
Now that people are back to work, Wild said lines are forming at the system’s testing centers. If case numbers don’t begin to decrease soon, he anticipates another lockdown will take place.
“I think that there's a need for further intervention for our community risk mitigation and whether that's a full lockdown or whether that's additional sort of restrictions on how we move and gather, especially in the places that we know by data are likely to be hotspots for transmission,” said Wild.
Rural counties, many of which still do not have mask mandates, will have a harder time accepting more restrictions, said Bob Moser, dean of the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Salina.
While the university has managed to keep case numbers down through mask-wearing and social-distancing, Saline County jumped from five to 34 hospitalizations in just four weeks.
As Kansas City-area hospitals also begin to fill up, Moser said rural hospitals are struggling to find open rooms for critical patients. The University of Kansas Health System Care Collaborative spent nearly eight hours this month finding an available hospital for just one patient, said Moser.
As a result, smaller hospitals are holding on to more COVID-19 patients rather than facing the challenges of transferring.
“That means other health conditions, chronic conditions that we deal with every day, may have to suffer because they don’t have the capacity for that. It's getting pretty critical,” said Moser.
Moser said another one of his biggest concerns is how rural communities will fit into the state’s plan to distribute vaccines. During the H1N1 crisis, Moser said rural counties were given very few vaccines because the state based area’s needs on their population size.
There is no plan yet for when rural areas will receive the vaccine, but KU health experts said it will first go to those at highest risk, first responders and healthcare workers.
“That's why we need more companies, because we know that through Operation Warp Speed, there has been a buildup of supply from those other companies that will help as well, if they do get approved. So this first batch is going to be a range, but it will be a small range,” said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease expert at the University of Kansas Health System.
Hawkinson said the system is now working with Wyandotte County on a plan to get vaccinations to the area’s most vulnerable populations.