Kansas doctors warn of lax approach to coronavirus variants

by Noah Taborda, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — Doctors with the University of Kansas Health System warn of a lack of preparation surrounding a COVID-19 subvariant driving rising case numbers.

The BA.5 variant has led health care providers in eastern Kansas to report levels similar to surges seen with Delta and Omicron. Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Health System, said the loosening of disease prevention protocols could be setting communities up for failure.

“Knowing that we are seeing a lack of boosters going into arms, and Paxlovid isn’t quite working as well, and the monoclonal antibodies aren’t quite what they were before, I just wonder, are we setting ourselves up for some problems this fall?” Dr. Stites said.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 7,519 new COVID-19 cases and five new deaths in the past week.

Without full vaccination and booster shots, variants will continue to spread, said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control for the KU Health System. In Kansas, 62.8% of the total population is fully vaccinated, and 45.6% has at least one booster shot. For Kansas adults, the vaccination rate is 73.7%.

“There’s just so much spread, but the other thing is that we know that there are animal spillovers that can occur and then occur back to humans as well,” Dr. Hawkinson said. “You’re just going to have so many opportunities for this virus to be selected out, for any one variant to be self-selected out. So think we are in for a long road as far as watching and monitoring for variants.”

KU Health System doctors said wastewater testing confirmed COVID-19 is on the rise in the region. Numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show hospitalization is on the rise across the country, including in Kansas.

Dr. Joseph LeMaster, medical director and health officer for Johnson County, said assumptions based on national data that the pandemic was over led to a return to old practices. He said the wastewater testing indicates actual infections may be much higher than reported numbers.

LeMaster said he was unsure if the board of commissioners would require masks in Johnson County schools.

“We’ve continued to recommend the strong use of masks and all the other mitigation efforts and have never really changed our recommendations, but the mandates in the schools last year were predominantly due to the lack of availability of vaccines for the youngest populations,” he said.

Patrick Sallee, president and CEO of Vibrant Health in Wyandotte County, said the public was set to repeat the same things experienced at the beginning of the pandemic. The brunt of this, he said, would be felt by under-resourced communities.

Carlton Abner, associate provost of Campus Health and Wellness at Kansas City University, said convincing people to get vaccinated necessitates restoring trust in underserved communities.

“It most likely is going to be establishing that trust, one person or small group at a time,” Abner said. “It’s going to probably require very intimate contact within those communities and conversations that are extended over a period of time to just get people across the line.”

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
See more at https://kansasreflector.com/2022/07/27/kansas-doctors-warn-of-lax-approach-to-coronavirus-variants/

Biden tests positive for COVID-19

by Jennifer Shutt and Ariana Figueroa, Kansas Reflector

Washington — President Joe Biden has tested positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing mild symptoms, the White House announced Thursday morning.

Biden, 79, is fully vaccinated against the virus and has twice received booster doses, according to the statement. He is taking Paxlovid, an antiviral prescription medication that is meant to reduce the severity of symptoms and the duration of illness.

“Consistent with CDC guidelines, he will isolate at the White House and will continue to carry out all of his duties fully during that time,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in the statement.

“He has been in contact with members of the White House staff by phone this morning, and will participate in his planned meetings at the White House this morning via phone and Zoom from the residence,” she continued.

The White House plans to provide daily updates on Biden’s condition. He will return to work in person when he tests negative.

He tested negative for COVID-19 on Tuesday, the White House said.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who was last with Biden Tuesday, has tested negative, according to a White House official. The White House did not specify when that test was conducted.

Harris is meeting with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, Thursday, and will later meet with North Carolina state legislators to hold a roundtable discussion about reproductive rights, according to the White House.

Harris spoke with Biden by phone Thursday morning and plans to continue her schedule as planned, according to the official.

“The vice president will remain masked following the advice of the White House medical team,” the official said.

Biden was in Massachusetts on Wednesday to announce action on climate change. Several of Biden’s top staffers traveled with him on Marine One, the helicopter that transports the president and aides from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where Air Force One takes off and lands.

Those aides included Bruce Reed, deputy chief of staff; Gina McCarthy, national climate adviser; Annie Tomasini, director of Oval Office operations; Jean-Pierre; and Stephen Goepfert, special assistant and personal aide to the president.

U.S. Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren as well as U.S. Reps. Jake Auchincloss and Bill Keating, all of Massachusetts, traveled with Biden from Andrews to the outdoor event in Somerset.

White House staff traveling on Air Force One included Vinay Reddy, director of speech writing; Curtis Reid, senior director for multilateral affairs; and Travis Dredd, trip director.

Biden is also coming off an international trip from last week, along with his first one to the Middle East, where from June 9-16 he traveled to the United Kingdom, Brussels, Geneva, Israel, the West Bank and then Saudi Arabia.

During that trip, he met with former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, while he attended the G7 summit. He had another meeting with the president of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Biden also met with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who ordered the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

He was scheduled to travel to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on Thursday to give a speech at the Marts Center at Wilkes University about the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which is the president’s funding request to Congress to help fund programs aimed at reducing gun violence.

Later on, the president was scheduled to travel to Philadelphia to “participate in a fundraising reception for the Democratic National Committee,” according to the White House’s schedule.

After his visit, he was scheduled to go back to his home in Wilmington, Delaware, for the weekend.

It’s unclear if the president will still be able to attend an event scheduled in Orlando and Tampa, Florida, on Monday. Biden was scheduled to give a speech at the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives Annual Conference in Orlando and another speech at a DNC rally in Tampa.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that someone who tests positive for COVID-19 should stay home for at least five days and isolate from others. The CDC advises against all travel.

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
See more at https://kansasreflector.com/2022/07/21/biden-tests-positive-for-covid-19/

Early demand for under-5 COVID-19 vaccines promising amid rising case numbers, Kansas doctors say

by Noah Taborda, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — As COVID-19 case numbers of approach levels not seen since February, Kansas doctors are encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated.

A month removed from the vaccine receiving emergency use authorization for children younger than 5, Danielle Johnson, a clinical psychologist with the University of Kansas Health System, said many pediatricians’ offices are running out of the shot. She says this is a good sign for demand and critical with more children being infected.

Johnson’s three children, including her 5-year-old daughter, have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“They understood the risks of having COVID, and so we wanted to make sure that we got them as safe as possible,” Johnson said. “They have all their other vaccines. They wear seatbelts when they’re in the car. They wear a helmet on their bicycle. So, we do things to keep them safe and this is another measure to keep them safe.”

Last month, both Moderna and Pfizer received emergency use authorizations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Subsequently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on the vaccination for children younger than 5.

A federal advisory committee determined the benefits of both vaccines outweigh any risks after they were well-tolerated by children who received them during clinical trials. Under the FDA authorization, the Moderna vaccine will consist of two shots, while the Pfizer vaccine consists of three shots.

At Children’s Mercy Hospitals, intensive care units are filling up, particularly with those needing treatment for COVID-19. While children may be infected at a lesser rate, the omicron variant has proven more infectious for young Kansans, making the vaccine approval timing essential, said Dr. Ryan Smith, a pediatrician with KU Health System.

He said one sign parents should take comfort in is that children report lesser side effects of the vaccine than adults.

“A big part of that is the vaccine developers being very cautious with the dose they provide to kids because, again, when we’re talking about young people, we need to be very, very cautious to the safety and efficacy,” Dr. Smith said. “I think that everything that the vaccine developers have done, it tells me that it’s safe and effective.”

After receiving the vaccine, children must wait 15 minutes to monitor for any severe, but rare, allergic reactions.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has reported 819,675 COVID-19 cases and 8,957 deaths. KDHE recorded 7,346 new cases in the previous week.

Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer for KU Health System, said heat maps of the country suggest the spread of the virus is accelerating across America. In Kansas, Johnson and Wyandotte counties are both in the red zone, meaning infection protection protocols could be around the corner.

“Remember that we don’t have the same public testing as we had before — so many of the tests are at-home — but in these reported cases, the numbers are reportedly probably four to eight times higher than that across the country,” Dr. Stites said. “We may actually have a much larger spike of new cases than we are actually able to measure because public health-wise, we’re not doing (testing).”

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
See more at https://kansasreflector.com/2022/07/18/early-demand-for-under-5-covid-19-vaccines-promising-amid-rising-case-numbers-kansas-doctors-say/