‘A nice, regular fall’: Kansas doctors call for more vaccinations to dampen COVID-19 cases

With recently approved boosters available, health officials advise more shots

By: - September 20, 2023 10:42 am
Registered Nurse Orlyn Grace administers a COVID-19 booster vaccination to Jeanie Merriman at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic April 6, 2022, in San Rafael, California.

COVID-19 boosters will tamp down infections, Kansas health officials say during a Wednesday, Sept. 20 update on the state's COVID-19 cases. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

TOPEKA — Doctors warn that colder months have already brought an uptick in COVID-19 cases, especially in the urban parts of the state, though numbers are still significantly lower than they were during the height of the pandemic.

During a Wednesday update on the state’s COVID-19 situation, doctors and health officials asked Kansans to take the new COVID-19 boosters, following approval from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of shots designed to target a strain that has become more prevalent.

The University of Kansas Health System reported treating 19 COVID-19 patients this week. Dana Hawkinson, director of infection prevention and control at the system, said the rate had increased in recent weeks, but last year’s numbers for this time frame had around 40 active cases.

“Hospitalizations have increased a little bit but nowhere near what we have seen in the past, and even the rate of change of the rate of that increase is pretty low or slow compared to other peaks and highs,” Hawkinson said.

Chakshu Gupta, chief medical officer at Liberty Hospital, reported the hospital had spent several weeks without any COVID-19 patients in the hospital. Since the beginning of September, the number has increased to an average of eight or 10 inpatients with COVID-19, and 25 employees have tested positive.

“Our test positivity rate had gone down to about 1% in the summer,” Gupta said. “It is now between 9 and 14%. The silver lining is that the illnesses have been less severe, and ICU admissions have been uncommon.”

In July, health organizations warned of a summer surge, in one of the first increases of COVID-19 hospitalizations seen this year. The CDC reported 8,035 new hospital admissions for the week ending July 22, marking a 12.1% increase compared to the week prior.

This month, national COVID-19 data from the week of Sept. 9 marked 20,538 new hospital admissions, with a 7.7% increase from the week prior.

Since the CDC stopped tracking cases of infection, hospitalizations are now the primary indicator of COVID-19 spread. New Kansas COVID-19 cases haven’t been widely documented by the state since the end of the federal COVID-19 emergency declaration in May.

Jennifer Schrimsher, infectious disease physician at LMH Health and public health officer for Douglas County, said Douglas County has been relatively free of new cases.

“COVID still exists,” Schrimsher said. “It’s still out there, it’s still causing severe illness, as does influenza. My focus with my patients right now is get your updated booster, get the flu vaccine when it’s available. I would like to have a nice, regular fall and winter respiratory illness season, as opposed to the past few years.”

Elizabeth Long, chief medical officer with Olathe Health, said her organization is focused on monitoring cases and preventative measures for staff and patients.

“We definitely had a dip over the summer months, and we just wanted to put this in our rearview mirror and say, ‘Hey, guess what COVID is over,’ ” Long said. “And unfortunately yesterday we had the highest number that we’ve had in several weeks, which was six.”

CDC data from August show 65.6% of Kansans, including 76.3% of adults, have completed a primary vaccination series for COVID-19. And 15.9% of Kansans, including 19.6% of adults, have received a booster shot.

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.