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Surges In Coronavirus And Seasonal Illness Could Test Kansas City Area Hospitals

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Doctors at the University of Kansas Health System warn that wearing masks and social distancing are crucial to protect hospital capacity.

With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations near all-time highs, hospitals' capacities could be tested by surges in cases of the coronavirus, influenza and colds.

Tracking with national trends, Missouri’s coronavirus numbers are climbing and testing hospital capacity just as seasonal illnesses are picking up.

Last week, Missouri had the seventh-highest number of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S., and hospitalizations in the state hit their highest point during the pandemic, according to the Department of Health and Senior Services.

Data from the state health department show 11,170 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the week ending Saturday.

The state’s data is at odds with CNN, which reported on Sunday that Missouri is one of two states where cases were trending down. However, CNN’s data, which was credited to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, appears to have been skewed by a data reporting error last weekend by the Missouri health department.

Missouri’s positivity testing rate for last week stands at 19.7%, nearly four times the rate recommended by the World Health Organization and other health groups.

The number of people in Missouri hospitalized with COVID-19 reached 1461 on Thursday, the most recent day for which complete data is available. The number marks an all-time high during the pandemic, and hospitalizations have been steadily increasing since late July.

Though hospitals remain below capacity, the overall number of people in hospitals has been increasing due to seasonal colds and other viruses that increase in the fall, according to Dr. Steven Stites, University of Kansas Health System chief medical officer.

“Are hospitals more full? They’re always more full this time of year. That’s not a surprise. COVID just pushes it a little higher. What I would say is that I don’t think anybody is getting denied care, and we haven’t slowed down elective surgeries in the Kansas City area, at least not yet. And we hope we don’t have to,” Stites said at a virtual press event on Friday.

St. Luke’s Health System briefly had to divert some ambulances last week due to capacity issues.

The average number of people being hospitalized each day with COVID-19 in the Kansas City area has declined to 117 from a high of 125 the previous week.

Stites said that people can prevent further coronavirus surges and help protect hospital capacity by wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

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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