From vaccines to hospital capacity, Kansas fighting COVID on multiple fronts

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Posted at 8:54 AM, Nov 18, 2020

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The director of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) is urging people to host virtual Thanksgiving celebrations as the state fights the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If we screw up during Thanksgiving and have a huge surge of cases, December is going to be bleak,” Dr. Lee Norman explained. “So I would recommend people virtually carve the turkey with those they love.”

Norman and other doctors are concerned about a surge in new COVID patients overwhelming hospitals. The University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kansas, had a record 84 COVID-19 patients hospitalized Tuesday.

Dr. David Wild, the hospital’s vice president of performance improvement, said the hospital saw an increase in patients about 10 days after Halloween. He worries about a similar increase after Thanksgiving.

He explained each department is being asked to identify two procedures per day (which require hospitalizing a patient) that can be delayed. If they delay those procedures, the hospital can free up to about 30 beds for a potential surge in COVID-19 cases.

Wild warned if that surge comes, the hospital would have to delay more procedures.

“We’ve already taken steps to manage those things that are not cancer-related that might have an impact on capacity. We would really be going to the things that would have a much greater impact on patients and their outcomes, if we had to delay anymore,” Wild explained.

Norman said setting up temporary tent hospitals is not an option because there are not enough nurses and doctors to staff those tents.

As Norman and Wild focus on capacity, Phil Griffin is focused on how to distribute a potential vaccine.

Griffin is the director of the KDHE’s Bureau of Disease Prevention. He said Moderna’s vaccine does not require extremely cold temperatures for storage, which will make it easier to distribute than Pfizer’s.

Griffin explained Kansas’ plan to administer the vaccine starts with healthcare workers, people living and working in senior facilities, essential workers and then the general public. He said enough inventory of a potential vaccine to make an impact may not reach the general public until spring or summer of 2021.