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Kansas City's Demand for Coronavirus Tests Doubles As Case Numbers Surge Across the Region

Workers at Truman Medical Center Lakewood attend to a long line of traffic that has been growing over recent weeks as more people show up for COVID testing. Hospital officials are concerned for staffing shortages as coronavirus cases continue to climb.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Workers at Truman Medical Center Lakewood attend to a long line of traffic that has been growing over recent weeks as more people show up for COVID testing. Hospital officials are concerned for staffing shortages as coronavirus cases continue to climb.

After COVID-19 cases stabilized over the weekend, Kansas City health experts are asking those who traveled during the Thanksgiving holiday to quarantine and get tested.

Eds note: This is a developing news story and will be updated as warranted.

Coronavirus testing numbers have more than doubled since COVID-19 cases began rising again in the Kansas City area, officials said Monday, even as they fear a need for more testing following the Thanksgiving holiday.

Hospitalization numbers were back up after stabilizing over the holiday weekend, Dr. Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease expert at the University of Kansas Health System, said at the KU daily briefing on Monday. The hospital is now treating 102 active cases, of which 46 are in the intensive care unit and 30 are on ventilators.

“It looks like social gatherings, not so much school, but those other places where people are getting together where they aren't really necessarily wearing masks as they should be, distancing as they should be, is really a concern,” said Hawkinson.

The increase in new cases and hospitalizations were reflected in the Kansas City Region COVID-19 Data Hub, created by the Mid-America Regional Council. Deaths stand at 1,019, according the MARC data.

While it’s too soon to see how Thanksgiving gatherings have impacted these numbers, Hawkinson said he expects to see another rise in hospitalizations in 10 to 14 days once people begin showing symptoms.

He also recommended that anyone who traveled or celebrated in a group for the holiday should act as if they are infected by quarantining and getting tested.

“We know that people have gone through Thanksgiving now, they probably want to see friends again from that time until Christmas so I think we are really heading for further infections,” said Hawkinson.

Hawkinson recommended that those who need to be tested wait five to seven days after any potential exposure.

As a result, he predicts testing numbers to go back up after reducing over the holiday weekend. The University of Kansas Health System’s lab team said it expects its number of tests to continue to rise like it has for the last month.

“In the last four weeks or so, we've probably doubled the average number of tests that we're doing. A month ago we were doing six, seven, 800 a day and we're well over a thousand these days,” said Rachael Liesman, the system’s director of clinical microbiology.

The hospital is also trying to increase the number of those tested by partnering with the state of Kansas, said Rick Couldry, KU's vice president of Pharmacy and Health Professions.

Couldry said the state is using federal funds to assign different testing regions to labs across the state.

“Our lab was assigned a group of five counties in the central Kansas area, really focused on long-term care facilities and retirement communities that don't necessarily have the testing that they need to help treat their guests,” said Couldry.

The health system is now focusing on a potential vaccine that could be ready to administer before the end of December, Hawkinson said. The Pfizer vaccine could be ready to roll out after gaining approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is expected on Dec. 10.

Couldry said the hospital is now making sure that it has the capacity to accommodate the vaccine, which needs to be housed at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

“It turns out that storing things at a negative 80 degrees Celsius, isn’t a normal thing to do for most of the rest of the world, but it is pretty normal in the healthcare world. The lab has several of these freezers and I think we're ever going to end up purchasing one more just to make sure that we have enough frozen storage on hand,” said Couldry.

The next challenge will be getting the drug administered before it reaches room temperature, after which it will begin to deteriorate, said Couldry. He said the hospital is working with its clinical team on how to best administer the vaccine without wasting any vials.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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