Kansas medical officers warn declining COVID-19 caseload doesn’t mean people are in the clear

By: - February 9, 2022 12:23 pm

While COVID-19 cases are starting to decline, Richard Watson said hospital transfers are still taking up to 10 hours, rather than the one or two hours patients usually face. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from University of Kansas Health System Facebook)

TOPEKA — While COVID-19 case numbers are beginning to decline in Kansas hospitals, officials are issuing a warning to stay vigilant and follow the pillars of infection prevention.

Hospital administrators reported on a University of Kansas Health System briefing Wednesday that they are seeing improvements across the board with additional bandwidth for non-COVID patients. Still, they are reminding people to remain on guard as the ebbs and flows of the pandemic remain uncertain.

Richard Watson, the co-founder of Motient, which assists the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in connecting rural hospitals when transferring patients, said beds are beginning to clear up. Transfers remain well behind pre-pandemic speeds, however.

“Patients are waiting 10-plus hours for transport, as opposed to what we usually see if it were normal capacity, where it would be one to two hours with time-critical diseases being less than an hour to move patients,” Watson said. “This is an unbelievably exceptional moment we have, and while there is a good trend all across the board, we don’t think that this is letting up next week or the week after.”

Since the onset of the pandemic, KDHE has recorded 748,520 COVID-19 cases, 7,725 deaths and 18,562 hospitalizations. Currently, 33% of Intensive Care Unit beds are available statewide, an improvement from 21% just a month ago.

A major factor is the number of long-haul COVID-19 patients, said Stephen Stites, chief medical officer at the health system.

“That’s a whole group of folks we’re not talking a lot about yet, but we’re going to be talking about for years to come because there are a lot of people who are going to suffer or are suffering for a very long time,” Stites said.

For those fully vaccinated and boosted, administrators said letting your guard down when around others who are taking similar precautionary measures may be all right in specific situations. Still, unpredictable mutations and warning signs from countries like the United Kingdom have administrators concerned spring could bring another surge.

James Alexander, chief medical officer for St. Catherine Hospital in Garden City, said in times where hospitals are struggling, it is paramount the public pick up the slack to ensure they are not overwhelmed.

“I have a concern about this little glitch where omicron wasn’t ‘as bad’ as delta, but who knows what’s next,” Alexander said. “Maybe we’ll have another delta. That’s my concern, and so we just have to educate communities.”

Issues extend beyond high case numbers and limited beds. For example, Lisa Hays, chief medical officer of AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, said they have had difficulties with the supply chain, particularly Styrofoam cups for patients.

“Our emergency management manager had to do a Costco run and buy up as many Styrofoam cups as he could,” Hays said.

Robert Freelove, chief medical officer of Salina Regional Health Center, said they have encountered struggles in the PCR testing supply chain.

“We’ve had to send more tests out to reference labs, and there’s a lag there of three to five days to get some of those results back,” Freelove said. “So, while it does look like our case rate has dropped some, it’s hard to tell for sure because of that lag.”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.