Hospitals here also seeing surge of COVID cases
Positive COVID-19 tests totaled 306 on Thursday in Wyandotte County, leading to a “very serious” situation, according to Health Department officials.
The seven-day rolling average for positive COVID cases is 266, according to Elizabeth Groenweghe, chief epidemiologist at the Unified Government Health Department. The number was even higher on Thursday.
Those are numbers they have never seen before, Groenweghe told the Unified Government Commission during the 5 p.m. Thursday meeting.
However, the UG Commission did not even take a vote on reinstating the mask mandate here on Thursday, as recommended by the Health Department. Mayor Tyrone Garner said the UG Commission may have another review on COVID at its next meeting.
Groenweghe said the 62 percent positivity rate of tests is the highest it has ever been in Wyandotte County.
Hospitalizations from COVID-19 also are increasing quite a bit here, she said.
“Hospitalizations are truly at a crisis level now,” she said. Wyandotte County hospitals have experienced a sharp increase in COVID cases, she added.
With the increase in case numbers this week, more increases in the hospitalization rate are expected in about two weeks, according to health officials.
Groenweghe said Wyandotte County had 19 COVID deaths in December and had two deaths so far in January. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 415 COVID deaths of Wyandotte County residents, she said.
She also said Wyandotte County is seeing more COVID cases among young adults and youths. With school starting again this week, she anticipates see a huge increase in the number of cases in schools, she said.
Currently, about 58 percent of Wyandotte County residents have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, while 48 percent are fully vaccinated, she said. Only 13.3 percent of Wyandotte County residents have received a booster dose of the COVID vaccine currently, leaving the community very vulnerable, she said.
About 38 percent of Wyandotte County children ages 5 to 17 have received one vaccine dose, while 28 percent of that age group here are fully vaccinated, she said.
Dr. Allen Greiner, chief medical officer for Wyandotte County, said COVID inpatients at local hospitals are increasing. Even if the Omicron variant is less severe, the amount of hospitalizations is around the same amount because the disease is more transmissible.
“We’re seeing so many staff get infected that we really have a major problem,” Dr. Greiner said.
Nurses are taking care of twice or three times as many patients as usual, he said, and the mortality rate in the emergency room is three to five times higher than it normally would be, he said.
Cases also are rising at the state level in Kansas, he said, which is why the governor re-enacted a 15-day state of emergency on Thursday afternoon.
Gov. Laura Kelly issued the state of disaster emergency and signed two executive orders that temporarily suspend some statutes for adult care homes and health care providers. The action was aimed at helping hospitals and health care workers that have been overwhelmed with COVID cases. The governor said after the Legislature returns to its session, she would work with legislators on passing legislation.
Dr. Greiner said monoclonal treatments are very effective against Omicron, but are very hard to get now, with the local supply used up almost immediately when it arrives each week. Regular procedures are being delayed, and rural hospitals are having difficulties in getting patients transferred, he said.
Dr. Greiner said the increases in COVID cases can be avoided if more people get vaccinated and do more things to mitigate the spread of the virus. Boosters are more important now, he said.
Currently, 60 percent of new infections in Wyandotte County are the Omicron variant, he said. That leaves the other 40 percent, which includes a lot of Delta infections, he said.
The curves of new COVID cases are going up very fast because Omicron is two to three times more transmissible, meaning that one person who has it can transmit it to seven to nine other people.
Dr. Greiner said multiple measures were needed to reduce the spread of COVID here, including vaccinations, wearing a mask, distancing, washing hands, used at the same time to make it harder for the virus to get through.
Besides the governor declaring a state of emergency, Dr. Greiner said Johnson County has reinstated its mask mandate recently for ages 5 to 11 years old; Kansas City, Missouri, approved a new mask mandate for kindergarten through 12th grade students in school buildings on Thursday; St. Louis, Missouri, reinstated a mask mandate this week; and Douglas County, Kansas, has reinstated a mask mandate.
Dr. Greiner said masks work, as shown by a study last year of Kansas counties.
He said health officials are worried about “long COVID,” shortages of staff and resources at hospitals, and no protection for children under 5.
“Children’s Mercy has more children now (with COVID) than at any point in the pandemic,” Dr. Greiner said.
Commissioner Christian Ramirez, who voted for against lifting the mask mandate at the Dec. 16 meeting, said, “We have opened Pandora’s box and now we can’t close it.”
It bothers him that the commission allowed the mask mandate to expire, he said.
“We are seeing our health care professionals every day sacrificing themselves to where their mental, physical and psychological well-being is just not good. They’re tired, yet we just allowed it to go away. I know we’re doing what we can, but that mask requirement was something extra that we can help them with,” he said.
But it was unlikely that they would have enough votes at this time to pass another mask mandate.
Commissioner Andrew Davis, who voted in favor of ending the mask mandate Dec. 16, asked if hospitals could deny care to people who were not vaccinated, but Dr. Greiner said they are not allowed to do that. However, there are now crisis methodologies in place that allow them to triage their patients.
The commission also heard from the Rev. Tony Carter and the Rev. Glenn Brady, with the Wyandotte County Health Equity Task Force, about how churches and the local community and nonprofits worked together to reach people who were traditionally underserved in receiving medical care.
The University of Kansas Health System on Thursday morning reported 134 total COVID patients, including 96 with active infections, 19 in the intensive care unit, and 11 on ventilators. Of the COVID patients, eight were fully vaccinated. There were four patient deaths in the last 24 hours.
Currently, according to Health Department officials, the Health Department’s Kmart vaccine site at 7836 State Ave. is open from noon to 6 p.m. on Fridays for free COVID vaccines, with no appointment necessary.
The Kmart site also is open for free COVID testing from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, with no appointment necessary.
The Health Department building at 6th and Ann is open for appointments to get COVID vaccines from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. Appointments can be made to 913-573-8855.
There is also free COVID testing offered at the Kansas National Guard Armory, 18th and Ridge, in a clinic sponsored by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. That testing is available from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
There are other testing and vaccine sites and pop-up clinics that are listed at wycovaccines.org.
Other vaccines opportunities are shown at the website, www.vaccines.gov/.