Steve Stites, left, and Dana Hawkinson, right, of the University of Kansas Health System say case numbers are rising slowly in Kansas but are hopeful a potential surge would mirror countries where vaccination and infection control measures have limited hospitalizations and deaths. (Screen capture KU Health System YouTube Chanel)
TOPEKA — Leading infection control and prevention experts at a Kansas hospital say COVID-19 numbers are trending up slowly but have yet to reach the surging levels seen in other countries.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported Friday 2,847 new COVID-19 cases and 29 new deaths since the previous week. The rolling seven-day average is 277 cases, a slight decrease from the previous week, but a stark increase since March, when the rolling average dropped below 100 cases.
Steve Stites, chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Health System, said looking at a heat map, there is a band moving across the central part of the country from Colorado, now into Kansas and Missouri. Hospitalizations are up, but deaths have remained stagnant.
“Now we know that deaths usually follow two to six weeks later,” Stites said Wednesday. “I’m going to cross my fingers and hope we won’t see this surge in deaths because it’s estimated that anywhere from 65 to 75% of people have had COVID-19, and we’ve got about 67 to 65% of America that’s been vaccinated.”
Stites said this nationwide surge means another wave is on its way to the Midwest.
To keep case numbers and spread down during the summer months, KDHE announced earlier this week that it will continue offering free testing to summer camps as it did last year. Camps will have options of testing strategies and can work with a KDHE specialist to develop a plan to best fit their needs.
Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control for KU Health System, said Friday that while cases are still rising, they hope to emulate countries like South Africa and the United Kingdom where the surges in cases have not coincided with a significant increase in hospitalizations and deaths
“We know hospitalizations are increasing. These are very slow paces,” Hawkinson said. “Numbers are going up a little bit but still very well in hand. No issues with capacity at this point. Hopefully, we can keep it that way.”
Hawkinson also noted that many employers are also beginning to dial back vaccine requirements in the area.
To date, 62.9% of Kansans have received one dose of the vaccine, and 54.9% have completed the series. Subsequent booster shots, however, are lagging, Hawkinson said. He credited part of this to COVID weariness, a motivation or exhaustion with the demands of life in the pandemic.
He urged Kansans who have yet to receive their booster shots to schedule an appointment.
“There is good data to support the fact that those boosters will continue to reduce your risk of hospitalization, severe disease and death,” Hawkinson said. “The majority of the population needs to be getting those boosters to be up to date, especially with that third dose that is a critical dose to really develop that immune response, not only to that vaccine spike but also to other variants as well.”
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