MISSION, Kan. — A winter cold snap that led to rolling power outages has disrupted shipments of Kansas COVID-19 vaccine, canceled some immunization clinics and shrank the number of people being tested.
Dennis Kriesel, executive director of the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments, said vaccine shipments that were supposed to go out earlier this week were delayed again on Wednesday. He said state health officials hope that most facilities will receive their weekly allotment by Friday.
Kriesel said the facilities with clinics planned have been told that they can use vaccine that had been set aside for second doses as first doses as long as they replenish that supply when the delayed shipment arrives.
"The vaccine should keep so I am not really worried about spoilage or anything," he said. "It's just obviously if you lose a week and then you have two weeks worth of vaccine and you are trying to do it all in seven days, not everyone has enough providers onboarded to actually be able to inject at that volume."
He said some health departments may tap providers who have offered to help or just try to beef up the number of vaccinations they administer at the end of the week.
Multiple communities, including some in the Topeka and Kansas City area, canceled vaccination clinics and testing Tuesday as temperatures dipped below zero and snow fell.
Testing had been falling even before the cold snap, with state health department data showing that the most people were tested in November, almost 186,000, or 6188 per day, and then it dropped to 182,000 in December or 5,873 a day - perhaps because of the holidays - and then it was less than 139,000 in January, or 4468 per day.
The lower number of tests has coincided with a drop in the number of positive tests. Kansas added just 1,267 new confirmed cases from Monday to Wednesday, pushing the state's pandemic total to 288,717. That brought the state's rolling seven-day average to 546 new COVID-19 cases a day, the lowest its been since mid-September. The number of COVID-19 deaths also rose by 115 to 4,521.
But the number of hospitalizations and the positivity rate also has been shrinking, leading health officials to believe the situation is actually improving.
In Wichita, the two major hospitals now have available beds in their intensive care units after 15 weeks of full ICUs, the Sedgwick County Health Department said.
There also is room at Kansas City area hospitals, said Elizabeth Holzschuh, an epidemiologist with the Johnson County health department, during a conference call Tuesday.
"A lot of the times that we look at our numbers, we also look at our testing data because if we are getting less cases but we also are testing less, it makes us question whether that is true," she said. "However, I think that the decline in hospitalizations and deaths really do speak to that this is a true decline in COVID transmission in our community."
Dr. Dana Hawkinson, director of infection control for the University of Kansas Health System, said the vaccination rollout is helping reduce infections - particularly among nursing home residents - but doesn't fully explain the drop. He said it is more likely the result of better masking, adding that the recent winter weather also has caused a "nature induced shutdown."
Dr. Steve Stites, the chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, said during a daily webcast that the cold snap forced people indoors.
"You are staying within your bubble because you want to stay warm," he said. "We will take that."