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Local doctors encourage vaccinations, boosters and masks as cases of omicron rise in Kansas City

Posted at 5:32 PM, Dec 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-29 18:34:54-05

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Rising cases of COVID-19 and longer lines at testing sites are worrying many healthcare workers as the Kansas City area continues through the holiday season.

According to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steven Stites, at the the University of Kansas Health System, the new omicron variant may not be as dangerous as other variants, but it is certainly more transmissible.

In addition, the on-going staffing shortage and rising case counts are causing delays in COVID-19 testing and elective surgeries.

The University of Kansas Health System reported 300 employees called out on Tuesday due to infection or quarantine.

Dr. Rachel Liesman with The University of Kansas Health System says it is already difficult for people who wish to get tested to find facilities that will take them in.

“We’re going to see delays in turn around time — we’ve already seen that nationwide," Liesman said. "We’ve experienced some delays in our laboratory and we’re trying to work through that. But it’s going to be a challenging time to get a test, which is gonna make it very difficult for this particular omicron wave."

With the current circumstances, doctors are focusing on encouraging preventative measures — getting vaccinated, boosted and wearing a mask.

Dr. Dana Hawkinson with the University of Kansas Health System says a recent medical journal suggests people who have been infected before with COVID-19 have no neutralizing antibody to the new omicron variant.

This is concerning as omicron already makes up at least 40% of current patients at the hospital.

Doctors also warn the new variant does not react as well to existing tools that are current available.

According to a recent Food and Drug Administration summary, sensitivity of the over-the-counter antigen test has decreased with the new variant.

“There are two different publications in two different journals, peer-reviewed, that do show that if you get that third dose, that booster dose, you are going to have an increase or a boost or actually now detectable neutralizing antibodies to omicron,” Hawkinson said.

Doctors suggest getting vaccinated, boosted and taking a test right away when showing symptoms can at least minimize the risk.

“If you have symptoms that are consistent with COVID, which is a broad range of symptoms, and you have a rapid antigen test, definitely take that test," Liesman said. "If its positive, that gives you a lot of information. If its negative, I would really encourage folks to get a PCR, because it could be falsely negative or you could have a different virus.”

Liesman is also worried about the usual flu season.

Symptoms may be difficult to differentiate between COVID-19, influenza and the common cold.

Due to this, she stresses the importance of getting vaccinated, wearing a mask and getting tested right away with the onset of any symptoms.

As the country continues through the holidays, doctors say people who are 65-years-old and older are most vulnerable.

Recent statistics published in the Los Angeles Times found that one in 100 adults, 65 and older in the United States, have now died of COVID-19.

Doctors warn elders have a harder time retaining levels of protection overtime.

Dr. Jessica Kalendar-Rich with the University of Kansas Health System shared some statistics regarding patients who are 65 and older.

According to Kalendar-Rich, those who were vaccinated in nursing care facilities around the U.S., 69% of them did not have the natural antibodies anymore to fight off another virus.

“We are seeing thankfully far fewer people end up hospitalized or dying," Kalendar-Rich said. "However, there's a distinct different between those that are fully-vaccinated and boosted compared to those that are not vaccinated and even compared to those that are not boosted."

Lack of staffing has also impacted the flow of incoming and outgoing nursing home patients.

“If we can’t transfer patients out of the hospitals to the nursing homes because you don’t have staff, that just means we can’t get people into the hospital who are sick and need us,” Stites said.

Kalendar-Rich says vaccination rates among Kansas City nursing home patients are over 80%, but those that are boosted only make up about 60%.