COVID-19 surge strains Kansas City-area hospitals ahead of 'worse' month

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Posted at 10:07 PM, Jul 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-29 00:55:39-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo — August is projected to see a high number of new COVID-19 cases – possibly higher than any previous wave the Kansas City metro has experienced – based on current infection rates, according to public health officials.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many hospitalized patients were 65 years old or older. But with the latest wave, doctors said a majority of those ending up in the hospital are under 35 and unvaccinated.

"Kansas City specifically has had our sharpest increase in this third wave than we have had with the other previous waves," said Dr. Erica Carney, KCMO's EMS medical director.

The surge in cases is overwhelming health care systems. Two weeks ago, they were dealing with about 30 hospitalizations daily, now it's more than 100 each day.

"That means there's nowhere to put patients right now," Carney said. "EMS ambulance transfers out of the hospital are taking hours."

The more-infectious delta variant is to blame, while a majority of deaths and critical patients are unvaccinated.

RELATED: COVID-19 pandemic prompts 'exodus of health care workers,' Kansas City doctor says

One of Carney's sickest patients was a 30-year-old man who beat COVID-19 once but died after contracting it a second time.

"It filled his lungs, and we can do our best with ventilatory support – I can put you on a machine I can breathe for you – But if your lungs are full, I can't get that oxygen through to your bloodstream," Carney said.

That man's mother also died from the virus. Their deaths finally convinced a loved one to get inoculated.

"A natural encounter with COVID does not lead to predictable immunity," Carney said. "What does lead to predictable immunity is the vaccine."

So far, about 10% of admitted patients have been vaccinated, but been infected, what health care workers call breakthrough cases. But Carney said those patients "have not required ventilators or ICU."

"A lot of those patients have underlying immunocompromising conditions," she said.

As more people get sick with the virus, it's clear this pandemic won't just go away until more people get vaccinated, according to Carney.

"The big concern is what about the next variant, right?" she said. "What about the next mutation that we can't keep up with it?"

She also said when the Kansas City community eased up on masking in the spring, a lot of viruses usually seen in the fall and winter started to emerge, placing a strain on hospitals.

The hope is the latest mask mandate will prevent leaders from taking more drastic measures to slow down the delta variant.