COVID-19 mapping tool helps health department visualize effect on age groups

covid heat map tool
Posted at 6:53 PM, Dec 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-21 19:53:29-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City area hospital and public health leaders say they're significantly concerned about the state of the pandemic heading into the holiday weekend.

At the Kansas City, Missouri Health Department, a COVID-19 mapping tool helps visualize how the virus has moved through different age populations in Kansas City since the pandemic started.

Alex Francisco, a public health statistician, said the map shows a correlation between high COVID-19 case rates in younger age groups and high death rates resulting in older age groups.

Francisco said he's concerned about the upcoming holidays because we're currently seeing similar levels of spread that we did during the summer surge, which peaked at around 1,500 cases a week. Currently, the city is slightly above that number per week.

The graph shows younger age groups, such as those 18 and under, which make up about 27% of cases and only about 12% of the population, are driving the spread of COVID-19.

"We are having a lot of cases in children, a lot of cases in the younger groups in those cases, are spreading disease to the older folks who are still dying," Francisco said.

His graph shows the age groups that are seeing more deaths aren't the ones spreading COVID-19 to each other. It's his main message to people this holiday season.

"It’s not about you, these groups tend to think 'I will be fine, I will be healthy, I’m not worried about COVID,' and the reality is that the spread among the 20 to 35-year-old's eventually spreads to the rest of the community," Francisco said.

At local hospitals, the concern about the effect of holiday gatherings is adding onto an already increasing surge in cases.

At University Health, in-patient COVID-19 numbers are six times higher than they were in early November, and double what they were a week ago.

Dr. Mark Steele, executive chief clinical officer, said the numbers are just shy of the peak from the summer surge.

"We know from last winter’s experience and obviously we are going into similar circumstances where people are forced indoors and want to get together for the holidays and also obviously with omicron on our doorstep, which is proven to be very highly contagious, we certainly are very concerned," Steele said.

His staff are stretched thin, tired and frustrated vaccination rates aren't higher.

Steele is asking people to avoid large gatherings, and if they are going to gather, to do it in small groups with others who are fully vaccinated and who have received a booster if they are eligible.

He said the majority of hospitalizations and deaths continue to be people who are not vaccinated.

"Clearly the unvaccinated cohort is the most at-risk as we go into the holiday season," Steele said.