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Kansas City Doctors Say Coronavirus 'Infection, Prevention and Control' Can Jump The State Line, So All Communities Should Be Masking

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Tyrone Tyner, a medical assistant at Truman Medical Center prepares a drive through patient for a COVID-19 test on Oct. 28.

Mayor Quinton Lucas defended new restrictions and called on all local governments to enact the same as COVID-19 hospitalizations hit another grim milestone.

Kansas City Mayor Lucas called Tuesday on all regional governments to support new coronavirus restrictions as the region hit record numbers of severe hospitalizations.

At the daily briefing hosted by the University of Kansas Health System, it announced 93 patients have active COVID-19 cases. Of that number, 44 are in the intensive care unit and 12 are on ventilators.

“I worry about my colleagues all around our states, from Hays, Kansas, to St. Louis, Missouri," Lucas said. "We are seeing cities large and small dealing with a COVID crisis."

The Hays Medical Center is currently treating 40 COVID-19 patients, which is nearly half of the 85 to 90 in-patients the hospital usually has at once.

In Topeka, Stormont Vail, the city's largest hospital, reported 103 COVID patients on Monday — its highest figure yet. The hospital recently began using hallways and waiting rooms to treat patients.

The Topeka Capital-Journal said the intensive care unit at the city’s smaller hospital — the University of Kansas Health System’s St. Francis location — surged from three-quarters full to past its capacity over the weekend. Shawnee County is discussing using an events center as a field hospital if it comes to it, the paper said.

According to the Kansas Hospital Association, about four-fifths of staffed ICU beds and two-thirds of staffed inpatient beds are full in northeast Kansas. That excludes the Kansas City metro, where the hospitals are even fuller.

Meanwhile, more Kansas county commissions are voting on requiring masks. Nearly 50 do so far. Several Kansas City metro counties already do, and Miami County will join them tomorrow.

Dr. Steven Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health system, said the key to getting case numbers down is by getting people to follow the basic rules of infection control. Not enough people are taking the virus seriously, he said.

“They have to believe in the science and they have to be willing to try and follow the rules of infection, prevention and control. There is a magic lever and the magic lever is called masking, distancing, staying home, if you're sick, taking care of each other, that is the magic lever,” Stites said.

Despite some public backlash, Lucas said he hopes the new set of restrictions, which kicked in last week, will get case numbers down and alleviate some of the pressure on hospitals and front-line workers. The best way to combat criticism and convince those that are reluctant to follow mandates is through education, he said.

“There is no glee in issuing orders. There is no desire for any control. What we're really trying to do is simply say these are steps that are necessary to keep our community as safe as possible," Lucas said, "and we're trying to be as narrowly tailored as we can in those steps."

The new restrictions limit public gatherings to 10 people, and mandate stricter occupancy limits and closing times for restaurants. This was done, in part, because of the number of young people between 20 and 40 that were responsible for 50% of the area’s new cases.

Nearly every county in the region has collaborated on the new guidelines, except for Johnson County, which opted for a less strict approach. Lucas acknowledged that it's hard to come to a complete consensus with such a large metropolitan area, but that he will try to implement as strong of recommendations as possible in Kansas City.

KU health experts warned that it will be harder to combat virus numbers if the entire region isn’t in agreement.

“Infection, prevention and control don't care what your state line is. The virus does not care either so if people don't follow the rules, then we're going to have more spread. To the extent that you work to keep things safe, we can bend the curve,” said Stites.

On distribution of an eventual vacccine, Lucas said he will also need regional cooperation. Lucas said his office is working with the State of Missouri to get vaccines to Kansas City.

Equity is going to be vital in how the vaccine is distributed, according to Dr. Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease expert at the University of Kansas Health System.

“We have seen how the minority populations have been hit so devastating and hard by this disease in hospitalization rates and death rates," Hawkinson said. "We know that there is a large proportion of essential workers, frontline workers, healthcare workers, in those minority populations so it's going to be extremely important to roll those vaccines out to those vulnerable populations as quickly and as soon as possible."

While they don’t have an exact timeline of when the vaccine will rollout, Hawkinson said it will first go to those at highest risk, first responders and healthcare workers, and then to all residents.

In the meantime, the health system says they are focusing on encouraging people to skip large family gatherings this holiday season in favor of smaller or virtual gatherings.

Stites said people were able to follow social-distancing rules when gathering in public on Election Day, but that won’t be the case at every gathering and people need to err on the side of caution to prevent another spike.

“What's the best way to feel blessed, is it to do things as we would normally do it, or is it to be different this year?" he said. "Remember that sometimes the best way to say, ‘I love you’ is to wear a mask, because if you don't and it makes somebody sick, what'd you really just say?”

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