KC hospital officials urge public and city for stronger COVID-19 protocols as local hospitals continue to suffer

Covid 19 Vaccine Clinic At University Hospital.

COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic at University Hospital. // Photo by Justin Kelley/MU Health Care

On Friday morning, Aug. 6, local Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) convened over Zoom to offer urgent messages, information, and data about rising cases of COVID-19 in the region. 

The briefing was led by Dr. Steven W. Stites, Chief Medical Officer of the University of Kansas Health Systems. Eleven other medical officers, ranging from specialists in infectious diseases to chiefs-of-staff, joined to discuss data and the current situation at health care facilities.

A similar message to public and community officials was reiterated throughout the briefing: More needs to be done. We need to wear masks with greater frequency, get vaccinated in higher numbers, and have more of an effort to push these initiatives to the public.

“As CMOs, we’re not trying to make public policies, so we’re staying away from the term ‘mask mandate,’” Dr. Stites says. “What we are saying is that we need everybody masked.”

Hospitals under strain

Currently, hospitals and health care facilities are under strain from rising rates of infection due to the spread of the Delta variant. As more beds are being occupied by COVID-19 patients, hospitals are reaching capacity, and other patients with time-sensitive diagnoses unrelated to COVID-19 are struggling to find immediate care. Staffing issues are also cropping up again as unvaccinated hospital workers are getting sick, leading to extreme shortages.

“Currently, we don’t have a nurse [available] for a planned procedure later today,” says Dr. Lisa Hays, CMO of AdventHealth Shawnee Mission.

Daily Hospitalizations

Daily average of new COVID-19 hospitalizations in the KC metro area. // Screenshot from CMO briefing

Moreover, the majority of patients being hospitalized are not vaccinated and, as a result, their hospitalization lasts longer than someone who has been vaccinated. 

“What we are seeing with those vaccinated patients is a decreased length of stay in the hospital as well as decreased acuity,” says Dr. Elizabeth Long, CMO of the Olathe Health System.

Children at risk

Children Are Effected

Children are at high risk of infection. // Screenshot from CMO briefing

Since there is no vaccine available for people 12 years and older, children are highly vulnerable to becoming infected with COVID-19. As a result, children with underlying health conditions are at the greatest risk of hospitalization.

Dr. Jennifer Watts, director of emergency preparedness at Children’s Mercy Hospital, expressed concern for the children ahead of the upcoming school year.

“We think the top priority is for our children to be in school,” Watts says. “And in order to do that, we have to have mitigation strategies in place.”

Things like masking, hand hygiene, and (frequent) routine cleaning are all strategies Watts cites as being effective but with trends of high community transmission rates and low vaccination rates more stringent strategies need to be in place to keep children safe and in school.

“The best thing we can do to keep kids safe is to ‘cacoon’ them—keep everybody around them vaccinated,” Watt says. “If everyone around them [is vaccinated], it offers them a little bit of protection.”

What needs to be done

There is nothing that is 100% capable of preventing the virus, but a combination of practices together can help greatly reduce transmission.

Through a combination of personal actions (wearing a mask, washing your hands, avoiding crowds) and shared responsibilities (quarantining and isolating if sick, getting tested for COVID, getting vaccinated) we can help bend the curve. 

Swiss Cheese Model

Personal and shared steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. // Screenshot from CMO briefing=

“We all have hard jobs right now, and what we’re trying to tell you is what our job looks like and ask for your help,” Stites says.  “And our job will get a lot harder if we continue down this road and struggle to take care of the patients who need our help every day.”

A link to the full briefing is free and available to the public here through the Kansas City Chamber.

Vaccines are recommended by the CDC and FDA as the best method to combat infection from COVID-19. A comprehensive list of vaccination sites in the Kansas City Metro area is available here.

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