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Jackson County Courthouse delays in-person trials while hospitals get overloaded with COVID patients

A woman wearing a black coat and gloves carries a clear, plastic bin that contains plastic bags with orange labeling. A woman in a car hands her a similar bag that contains a COVID test.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Sherry Langrehr, an employee of 4M Healthcare, collects a COVID test from one of 2,000 people who took advantage of free-driver through testing last week in Overland Park. Across the metro, people are struggling to get COVID tests.

COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the metro, and hospital systems are showing strain as workers are out with the virus and inpatient cases increase.

As COVID-19 cases continue to spike across the metro, hospital systems are straining to keep up with new cases and staff illnesses.

In Kansas, there have been 13,557 new cases since Friday, according to the most recent numbers from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. In that same time frame there were 18 deaths and 52 hospitalizations across the state. Across Missouri there have been 48,880 confirmed new cases in the last seven days, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. In that same time period there were 29 confirmed COVID deaths and 3202 hospitalizations as of Jan. 7.

The Jackson County Courthouse has suspended in-person jury trials for two weeks because of COVID spread. According to an administrative order, because the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has surged in the area covered by the court, there has been an increase in cases from the court’s staff and families and detainees of the Jackson County Detention Center. Currently, the court plans to resume jury trials the week of Jan. 24.

New records for COVID-19 hospitalizations

At the University of Kansas Health System, cases have surpassed previous records for COVID infections. According to a briefing on Monday morning, Dr. Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease expert at KU Med, said the hospital system has 162 total COVID patients right now.

Hawkinson said that surpassed KU Med’s previous COVID patient record of 115 inpatient cases set on Dec. 10, 2020.

Monday’s totals at KU Med include 119 active infections, 18 patients in the ICU, and 13 patients on ventilators. Of those 162 patients, only 11 were vaccinated. The hospital system had two COVID patient deaths on Sunday, and a total of 13 so far for the month of January.

Hawkinson and Dr. Steven W. Stites, Chief Medical Officer of the University of Kansas Health System, both pushed back on the idea that the increase in hospital cases is due to patients coming in for other issues and then testing positive for COVID. Stites said that is inaccurate.

“The reality is, the overwhelming majority of our patients who are COVID positive are here because they have COVID,” Stites said. “If they didn’t have COVID, they wouldn’t be in the hospital.”

Hawkinson said wastewater data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment shows that the Kansas City-area is primarily seeing omicron, not the delta variant, spread in this part of the state.

Hospitals struggle as staff test positive for COVID-19

Both doctors expressed concern that since omicron spread is so high in the community, there’s a likelihood that it could be detrimental when reaching at-risk populations like nursing homes.

Other health organizations in the metro reported similar increases in COVID cases. At Children’s Mercy, 250 staff members are confirmed positive and under home isolation and they have 27 COVID-19 inpatients as of Monday morning. At AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, 76 patients are currently positive with COVID, and 110 staff members are infected and at home with the virus.

Stites and Hawkinson of KU Med said they have seen some promising signs of a potential drop off in cases when monitoring COVID curves nationally and in other metropolitan areas internationally that faced omicron earlier than the metro.

However, both KU Med doctors expressed concern regarding spread in schools and how that could further impact a rise in cases and make it increasingly difficult to have effective in-person learning.

Last week, the Kansas City Council approved an ordinance that requires masks to be worn by all children, faculty, staff and visitors inside a K-12 school building or school bus in Kansas City. There is no citywide mask mandate currently in place. The mask requirement applies to all schools in the city except those operated by a religious institution.

On the Kansas side of the metro, Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools still require masks for students, staff and visitors. In Johnson County, masks are required in school buildings for grades pre-K to 6th grade.

“The folks who are saying we don’t need to mask in schools, I think that is a prohibitively bad idea because if you want to keep kids in school you have to keep teachers in school, you have to keep administrators in school and you have to keep the kids in school,” Stites said. “The only way to do that is to mask… it just is the reality. It’s an unpleasant reality, but denial of the reality is just going to make it worse.”

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