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Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department Director Says City Is In Second Wave of COVID-19

Julie Denesha
FILE—Kansas City has seen the numbers of new COVID-19 cases continue to increase each week since early May.

Statewide data, however, generally show COVID-19 cases have not spiked following the reopening of the economy and large gatherings on Memorial Day.

The state of Missouri is lifting stay-at-home restrictions next week, citing promising data on COVID-19 spread, and other government jurisdictions are also aiming to quickly return to normal.

But data show that COVID-19 is continuing to spread and could be on an upswing in Kansas City, according to the head of the city’s health department.

The rate of new cases has increased every week since May 10, according to city health department data, reaching an average of 52 new cases reported per day for the week ending on Friday.

“We are on a rise of a second wave,” Kansas City Health Department Director Dr. Rex Archer said on KCUR Friday morning.

In a statement this week, the health department said the increasing numbers were due to both increased testing and additional outbreaks.

Kansas City now has a total of 1,581 confirmed cases.

Other health officials caution that recent spikes and upticks do not, in fact, represent a “second wave” of coronavirus spread but merely a continuation of the first wave that hit the U.S. in the spring.

“The more scary, sort of big picture proposition is what happens when we really start to see another surge," says Dr. Karen Joynt Maddox, a health care researcher at Washington University in St. Louis. "I think most epidemiologists are predicting that that will happen this fall, when we have people back in close quarters again, when all of the social distancing has relaxed and perhaps even in conjunction with the flu.”

Maddox says a true second wave would more likely be a much larger surge that infectious disease experts warn might strike in the fall.

Missouri has not yet seen large number of new COVID-19 cases resulting from two recent events that alarmed health care experts: a Memorial Day weekend pool party in the Ozarks and the discovery that two hairstylists in Springfield with COVID-19 had cut the hair of dozens of clients.

But Maddox says the absence of new cases from events like these should not be interpreted as an indication the virus is less dangerous.

“We’ve gotten lucky on a few of them,” Maddox says. “We won’t get lucky on all of them.”

Archer, however, says that outbreaks resulting from those events might not yet be apparent, because the virus could be transmitted through several people, including those who don’t show symptoms, before an outbreak is apparent.

“Just like the rate of how this took off in this country, the first week or two of cases in any country wasn’t a huge deal until it really then expanded as more people were being exposed,” Archer said.

COVID-19 cases in Missouri have increased since mid-May, with 195 cases reported on Friday, but that's
likely due in large part to increased testing, which started in late May.

The rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations has been gradually decreasing since reaching a peak in early May.

Preliminary data from the Missouri Hospital Association on Thursday showed that 592 patients are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

In other jurisdictions:

  • Kansas data show a gradual decline in both COVID-19 cases and new hospitalizations for the period between May 24 and June 7.
  • Johnson County, Kansas, data show cases plateauing, with a gradual decline in hospitalizations, down from peaks in late April and early May.
  • Wyandotte County, Kansas, data show a decrease in the number of people hospitalized and a slight uptick in cases, although those numbers remain lower than their early May peak.
As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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