Physician Andrew Schlachter of Saint Luke’s Health System offered an emotional appeal Friday in support of vaccination against COVID-19 due to the surge in younger, sicker ICU patients undercut by the Delta variant of the virus. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
OVERLAND PARK — Physicians Andrew Schlachter and Dena Hubbard made life-or-death appeals Friday for Kansans to accept vaccination against COVID-19 to save themselves and loved ones at a time when spread of the delta variant threatened to buckle the Kansas City health care system.
The doctors joined Gov. Laura Kelly at Saint Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute to share snapshots of ongoing battles in intensive care units filled in the metropolitan area with younger, sicker patients afflicted by the more easily spread variant of coronavirus. They emphasized the threat to pregnant women who had declined to get vaccinated, both in terms of the health of new mothers and infants.
“I’m not here today to inspire fear, to discuss politics or argue statistics,” said Schlachter, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at Saint Luke’s Health System. “We need to be telling our loved ones that vaccination is the most sure way to avoid getting a phone call from me or another ICU doctor. This is real.”
Hubbard, chair of the public policy committee for the Kansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said this phase of the COVID-19 pandemic was marked by an aggressive assault on the unvaccinated.
“We’re seeing many more COVID-positive moms — unvaccinated — with more severe illnesses,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to have a mother and her baby separated, seeing those babies in respiratory distress so severe they can’t breathe without a ventilator.”
Hubbard and Kelly said people should stop placing faith in online chat rooms, social media platforms or people who discounted medical evidence about COVID-19 and disputed the value of vaccinations and other precautions.
“Misinformation has and continues to be deadly,” said Hubbard, who works at Children’s Mercy. “There is no more time to waste. By the time that you know you need it, it may be too late.”
Kelly said too many people in leadership positions, including prominent politicians, had consistently manipulated information about the pandemic for partisan gain and at great cost to the welfare of Kansans. She said actions of some in the Kansas Legislature were designed to undermine her politically, but ended up hurting constituents they swore a constitutional oath to serve.
“I want those who are weaponizing this information to know your actions don’t hurt me,” the Democratic governor said. “Your actions hurt your neighbors with pre-existing conditions. Your actions hurt your local businesses because people are having to stay home. Your actions are hurting our teachers who have to risk their safety every day because their students aren’t wearing masks.”
In response to a question about U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall’s claim masks weren’t effective, Kelly said that kind of advice from a physician represented a significant public health threat. The Republican senator said science didn’t support mask mandates for people who had been vaccinated or had the virus.
“That’s a problem when you have high-profile people spreading misinformation,” Kelly said.
The Kansas Department for Health and Environment on Friday reported 38 more Kansans have died from COVID-19 since Wednesday, along with 106 more hospitalizations and 2,675 new cases. The agency’s data show just 28% of ICU beds are available in Kansas.
As of Thursday, there were 23 children hospitalized for COVID-19, according to KDHE data.
The virus has infected more than 356,000 Kansans and killed 5,494 residents since it was first detected in the state during March 2020. That includes 236 deaths in the first 18 days of August, compared to 88 for all of August 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show that 55.6% of eligible Kansans — those 12 and older — are fully vaccinated, and 66.4% have taken at least one dose. Those numbers trail national averages of 59.8% fully vaccinated and 70.4% with at least one dose.
The state is now averaging 15.5 deaths from COVID-19 per day over the past week, the highest average for a seven-day period since February. At this time last year, the average number of deaths per day was 2.
The average number of new cases per day has trended steadily upward from a low of 96 in late June and about 600 in late July to more than 1,200 this week.
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