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'We're on fire again': KU Health System chief urges public to take delta variant seriously

COVID-19 cases are back to Jan. 2021 levels
KU Dr Steven Stites.png
Posted at 1:41 PM, Aug 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-16 15:18:25-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Doctors and health professionals in Missouri and Kansas pondered one of the most enduring questions of the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday — how to get people to understand the urgency of rising cases.

In the University of Kansas Health System, as of Monday morning, there were 63 active cases of COVID-19. Twenty-one patients were in the ICU, 16 were on a ventilator and 22 were in recovery.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Dana Hawkinson described the numbers as a significant increase from last week.

"We haven't had this number of active infections in the hospital since January," Hawkinson said.

Chief Medical Officer of the University of Kansas Health System Dr. Steven Stites added that the hospital is very full, despite an increase in transfer requests from other hospitals, three or four times the normal amount.

Stites appeared to be frustrated with the public response to the resurgence of COVID-19 caused by the delta variant. He said as tired as the public might be, the medical staff working in COVID-19 units are more so.

“It doesn’t feel like people are really listening… people are just tired of it,” Stites said. “If you want to see tiredness, you want to see exhaustion, go look in the eyes of the nursing staff right now.”

Regardless of the public response, he said the situation is becoming more concerning.

“I said once before… last fall that we’re on fire, and I think we’re on fire again," Stites said.

This concern was echoed by Herb Kuhn, the Missouri Hospital Association president.

"This thing comes on like a freight train. Where before it took us five to six months to get to these high levels we saw it last winter, now it's taken five to six weeks," Kuhn said.

He also drew attention to the way the delta variant is impacting young people and the toll it's taking on staff.

"You go through these ICU units, and unlike last winter, where you saw mostly elderly folks, now you're seeing people aged 18, 20, 25, 30," Kuhn said. "This has even a larger, harder strain on the hospital staff than what we saw before."

The doctors and professionals urged masking and vaccination in response to the increased threat posed by the delta variant.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story attributed the comments from the Missouri Hospital Association to the wrong speaker.