Kansas health officials report 62 deaths from COVID-19 since Monday

By: - August 18, 2021 1:48 pm

Steve Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, says during a news briefing Wednesday that the failure to deal with the delta variant crisis is costing people their lives. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Steve Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, says the low rate of vaccination from COVID-19 and a lack of social distancing or wearing a face covering has allowed the delta variant to bring “so much of this country to its knees.”

And this is only the beginning, he says.

Kansas health officials on Wednesday reported 62 more deaths from the virus, along with 98 hospitalizations and 3,006 new cases, in the past two days. Data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment show emergency room visits associated with COVID-19 have spiked from mid-June levels, and just 29% of intensive care unit beds are available statewide. As of Tuesday, 27 children were hospitalized for COVID-19.

The numbers of deaths and hospitalizations are trending well above where they were a year ago, and rapidly approaching the peaks from last winter. The highly contagious delta variant is behind the extraordinary damage.

Stites, speaking at a daily news briefing, said Kansas is just starting to see the impact of delta, in part because it will take some time for the virus to ripple through the school system.

The University of Kansas Health System was treating 54 patients for COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, including 16 in the intensive care unit and 10 on ventilators. Of the 54 total patients, 11 are vaccinated.

“We’re all tired of COVID,” he said, “but you’ve got to look in our nursing staff’s eyes, especially on the COVID units, and you’re going to see much more than you’re tired of COVID. You’re going to see a little bit of anger, a little bit of despair, and just a whole lot of, ‘Oh my God, what’s happening now?’ And that’s because, as a nation, we have failed to address this crisis in the way we should, and it is costing people their lives.”

Just 55.3% of eligible Kansans are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are free, widely available, safe and effective.

Federal health officials on Wednesday said booster shots of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would be available starting Sept. 20, based on when a person became fully vaccinated. In Kansas, the additional dose is already available for those who are immunocompromised.

“The FDA’s decision to authorize COVID-19 vaccine booster shots will go further in preventing severe illness and death for many Americans,” said U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall. “I urge all seniors and folks with underlying health conditions to consider getting this booster shot, but as always, please consult with your doctor to determine if a booster shot is right for you.”

Federal regulators have granted emergency use authorization for the vaccines, with full approval expected by the end of September.

“Looking forward, I urge the FDA to remain committed to the expedited review of all available COVID-19 vaccines,” Marshall said. “With full FDA approval, health care providers will be able to better serve their patients in discussing the benefits of the vaccine, resulting in more shots in arms and our country defeating this virus sooner rather than later.”

KDHE also reported current outbreaks of COVID-19 at seven long-term care facilities, three group living facilities, and four child care centers in Kansas. The largest of those outbreaks is at the Kansas Neurological Institute, where there have been 21 recent cases.

Seventeen cases have been connected to Dodge City Days events in the past two weeks.

The Butler County Jail has the largest current outbreak, with 33 new cases in the past 14 days. There have been 11 new cases in that time at the Sedgwick County Jail.

Other outbreak locations include Dyamax Inc. in Wamego (19), Envision in Wichita (7), Noahs Arkacademy in Independence (7), and the Wendy’s in Newton (5).

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. A lifelong Kansan, he graduated from Emporia State University in 2004 as a Shepherd Scholar with a degree in English.