KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Doctors with the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kansas, announced Monday morning the hospital has its highest number of patients with an active COVID-19 infection for any time during the pandemic.
There are currently 119 patients battling acute COVID-19 infections at the University of Kansas Health System. The previous high was 115 patients on December 10, 2020. On Monday, an additional 43 patients in the hospital were recovering from COVID-19 but were no longer classified as acute. Doctors said only nine of the 119 patients with an active infection were fully vaccinated.
Two patients died of COVID-19 Sunday, bringing the hospital’s total for 2022 to 13 deaths.
“The reality is that the overwhelming majority of our patients who are COVID-positive are here because they have COVID. If they didn't have COVID, they would not be in the hospital. It is not a spurious finding,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steven Stites pointed out. “We just have to get past the made-up news network and stick to the real news. That's what we're doing. We're going to run with the truth.”
Stites and Dr. Dana Hawkinson, the University of Kansas Health System’s medical director of infection, prevention and control, reiterated wearing a face mask, getting vaccinated, avoiding crowds and washing your hands are all good ways to avoid contracting the virus.
Both doctors said you should not let down your guard under the assumption the omicron variant is less severe than previous forms of the virus. Stites said it’s too early to determine exactly how the variants compare.
“Maybe it is more mild, but that's a big maybe and there are people who are dying from it,” Stites pointed out. “Now, which one do you want to be: Do you want to be the person who's gonna play Russian roulette down in the gambling casino over your life? Or, do you just want to put on a darn mask? I mean, that's the challenge for us. If you just try to follow the rules of infection control, you're in a lot better chance to stay safe.”
Over the weekend, the health system changed its isolation period for employees who test positive. They are now allowed to return to work within seven days of testing positive, so long as they’re no longer symptomatic, instead of waiting 10 days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended 5-day isolation periods.
“We feel, and there were big discussions within the health system about that, that this was the safest because of the high risk patients that we deal with and wanting to keep the rest of our employees but also the patients as safe as possible,” Dr. Hawkinson explained.
About 850 University of Kansas Health System staff members were out of work Sunday because of quarantine or isolation protocols. Doctors said those staff members are contracting COVID-19 in the community and not at work, saying the hospital is a safe place.
To cover gaps because of absenteeism, the hospital has moved personnel to new roles. Even the chief operating officer worked this weekend trying to fix an ice machine among other non-routine duties.
“To address the the care at the bedside, we're moving all individuals with clinical competencies to that direct patient care role in every way that we can,” COO Chris Ruder explained.
Some volunteers and retired former employees who have received their vaccination are able to help as well thanks to an emergency order in the state, which waives certain licensing requirements.
“People want to help in all ways that they can and it makes a difference,” Ruder said. “It just makes that operation happen that much more smoothly to support those who are providing care at the bedside.”
Doctors and business leaders urged the community to take COVID-19 seriously.
“If you look at what what omicron is doing and the widespread absenteeism, I think we should expect supply chain issues to continue to be challenging across the spectrum," Joe Reardon, president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, said. "They're not going to recover until we do two things: Number one, we try to slow the spread and hope for this peak, but secondly, for the long haul we have to address real issues around people's barriers to getting back into the workforce, whether that's daycare, whether that's training.”