KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chief Medical Officers from the Kansas City Metropolitan area made a joint plea to the public Friday morning.
Hospitals are seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases and with the emergence of the Omicron variant, healthcare officials said they are worried what this will mean for the month of January.
“Danger is real. It’s present and it’s at our doorstep. This is a warning to all of you – we are in trouble,” Dr. Steven Stites with the University of Kansas Health System said.
Health officials are calling the current state of the pandemic “a death march of the unvaccinated.” Hospitals are seeing their inpatient numbers rise in record speed due to people gathering indoors with colder weather and masks coming off. In most area hospitals, 80 to 90 percent of inpatients with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
One in 400 people in Kansas died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Doctors also warned reinfections will happen with the spread of the Omicron variant in the near future. New York City is seeing the third highest rate of positive cases since the pandemic began.
Doctors say one of the biggest issues across the board right now is the lack of capacity in area hospitals. This is due to rising COVID-19 numbers and employee burnout. Having open ICU beds means nothing if they do not have the manpower to look after them.
“With our staff, they are tired, they are overworked and we continue to ask them to do more and more with these volumes. And so we’re anticipating issues with our travelers, their contracts are going to be expiring,” Dr. Elizabeth Long, Chief Medical Officer at Olathe Health, said.
According to Long, many people have left the profession in the last year, and nursing classes are only graduating with about half the number of students.
“It is not only a daily struggle, but an hourly struggle. Every hour we are constantly monitoring how many nurses we need, how many nurses can we get, when can they get here, how long can they stay, what do we need to pay them. It is a constant conversation,” HCA Midwest Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kimberly Megow said.
Doctors also remind the public that lack of staffing will directly impact patients needing care for other illnesses. It can become a matter of life or death when dealing with strokes, heart attacks and trauma. The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis already had to cancel or reschedule eight surgeries.
Hospitals say the grim numbers we are seeing now are the effects of the delta variant in the last three weeks, and our youngest population is no exception.
Dr. Jennifer Watts with Children’s Mercy said there are over 400 positive cases this week. She said the impact of hospitalization on kids goes beyond difficult hours at the hospital. It affects their nutrition, development and overall well-being. Not to mention, keeping kids in school has been a big priority for educators. The system is trying to get them caught up now from last year.
“A typical winter for us in the pediatric population is the huge spread of flu and other winter viral illnesses. With masks coming off in school, that’s an extreme risk for us with the typical winter surge. COVID exacerbated on top of that with our staffing shortage,” Watts said.
Reports show the number of flu vaccines administered this season is historically low as well. Watts encourages masking to stay in place at our schools and for parents to help their kids get through the challenge of this winter.
With the arrival of the new variant, area hospitals are asking the public to reevaluate their holiday plans. Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher with Lawrence Memorial Hospital challenges people to consider the health conditions of those around them even though they personally may be otherwise healthy.
“I would look for smaller gatherings, trying to stay with your own household, not traveling across the US. You know if it's nice, open the windows, wear your mask when you are not eating,” Schrimsher said.
Dr. Raghu Adiga with Liberty Hospital also recommended people get a rapid test at the pharmacy on the day of the Christmas gathering.
Doctors advise anyone who has not been vaccinated to consider getting the shot before gathering in large numbers and for people who are already vaccinated to get a booster.
“The best gift you can give someone right now is you respect and follow the rules of infection control because you want them to be here for the next holiday season,” Stites said.