COVID putting as many Kansans in the hospital as it did in March

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Carlos Moreno / KCUR 89.3

By CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN
Kansas News Service

For six straight months, COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped steadily.

Kansans let down their guard. They stopped wearing masks. Most didn’t bother to get the vaccine.

Then the highly contagious delta variant arrived.

It
took root, and is fueling a surge of the coronavirus worse than
anything in the past several months. That’s led to steep increases in
hospitalizations and fresh outbreaks in long-term care.

  1. Kansas reported 3,000 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the past week. The state hasn’t seen an increase like that since February.
  1. The daily count of COVID inpatients hit 275 last Wednesday — the highest since early March.
  1. Nursing homes and other long-term care sites are battling nine outbreaks this week, four times as many as three months ago.

And this is before schoolchildren and college students head back to classes in August.

“It is scary,” Fredonia,
Kansas, family doctor Jennifer Bacani McKenney said. “Because we don’t
have people wearing masks in the community. Pretty much here nobody’s
wearing masks except for us in health care.”

The delta variant recently found its way into an assisted living
center in rural Wilson County in southeast Kansas, where Bacani-McKenney
is the local health officer. About two dozen people got sick.

Most
of those people were vaccinated and got only mildly ill,
Bacani-McKenney said. She declined to disclose whether any of the
center’s residents died, but said her county has had three recent
COVID-19 deaths.

Low vaccination rate

Fewer than half of Kansans have gotten fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

With so many still unprotected, the delta variant has no shortage of hosts to choose from.

It can also affect those who’ve gotten the shots, though vaccination significantly cuts the risks of hospitalization and death.

How did the delta variant get into the Wilson County assisted living center?

Confirming
that is difficult. As far as health officials can tell, they believe a
vaccinated staff member unwittingly carried in the germs from a side gig
cleaning the home of an unvaccinated couple who got sick.

Topeka physician Erin Locke, health officer for Shawnee County, urged anyone with even mild symptoms to get a free COVID test instead of assuming it’s just a cold.

“We
have just over half of our county that are not protected” with
vaccines, she said. “And going about and doing all the normal activities
without taking any precautions is really, really risky right now.”

Shawnee County confirmed its first delta case in early June and it is now the dominant version of coronavirus there.

Last
week the county pleaded for residents to get vaccinated after
confirming 112 COVID cases in just four days, compared to 156 cases for
the whole month of June.

The increase is fueled by unvaccinated
adults and children. Locke said the county has seen very few cases of
vaccinated people getting sick.

“We’ve calculated that rate at
about one individual for every 1,000 fully vaccinated individuals,” she
said. “So it’s really quite low.”

Though children 11 and younger
can’t get the shots yet, those 12 through 17 can. Yet Shawnee County
estimates just 30% of that age group has done so.

Masks and schools

Pediatrician
Barbara Pahud researches infectious disease at Children’s Mercy
Hospital, where she leads the clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccine for
children under 12.

If you have children in that age group, Pahud
said, don’t expect shots this fall. The clinical study and federal
review process may well take until early next year.

That doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t go back to classes in August, she said. But families and schools should take precautions.

“The
problem is, people don’t want to wear masks,” she said. “We want to go
back to school, but not with masks. You can’t do that in the middle of a
pandemic.”

“Until we get everybody vaccinated, you’re going to have to continue doing what we know works,” Pahud said. “Masks work.”

Several Kansas school districts have already made masks optional, including some of the state’s biggest in Sedgwick and Johnson counties.

Last
week, the Johnson County health department urged school districts to
make masks mandatory for anyone who is unvaccinated come August.

Celia
Llopis-Jepsen reports on consumer health for the Kansas News Service.
You can follow her on Twitter @celia_LJ or email her at [email protected]

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