Kansas City may be near a peak in omicron cases, but hospitals are still overwhelmed

·4 min read

COVID-19 case numbers dropped slightly this week, but hospitalizations and deaths from the omicron surge remain high in the Kansas City area.

This week’s slightly lower case numbers and a decrease in omicron in Kansas City’s wastewater may indicate that the metro is nearing a peak in this wave of the pandemic, but the area is not out of the woods yet. It’s too early to tell for sure that cases will keep going down, according to local medical experts.

“The rate of hospitalization is going up… we just set a new record today,” said Dr. Steven Stites, chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Health System. “I do not believe we’re seeing a big drop-off, it’s much too early to say that.”

Hospitalizations typically follow around two weeks behind trends in case numbers, while deaths occur roughly a week after that. That means even if case numbers are peaking right now, we could still see high death rates three or more weeks from now.

What’s the status of COVID-19 data in the Kansas City area?

Local officials have reported 23,062 new COVID-19 cases in the past week, bringing the total number of cases in the Kansas City metro area up to 325,738 since the pandemic began. That’s a little lower than the 25,677 cases recorded last week.

As of Tuesday, the rolling average of new COVID-19 cases across the metro area is around 3,294 per day over seven days, according to data tracked by The Star. That’s a bit lower than last week’s average of 3,668.

Deaths remain high, with 129 reported in the past week. This brings the local death total up to 3,695 since the pandemic began. That’s significantly higher than the 50 deaths recorded last week.

The high death count this week is due in part to an audit by the state of Missouri that added 249 previously uncounted COVID-19 deaths to the state’s totals on Thursday, Jan. 20. This week also includes a delayed high daily death total following Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend.

What does the data show in the rest of Kansas and Missouri?

Data from other parts of Kansas and Missouri, particularly rural areas, doesn’t look promising for a quick end to the omicron variant surge, Dr. Stites noted in a news briefing on Tuesday, Jan. 25.

Kansas has the highest average cases per capita of the omicron variant of any state in the country, while Missouri is the least vaccinated state in the nation today, he said.

While wastewater data suggests that the omicron variant may have peaked in Kansas City, the virus is still on the rise in rural areas of Missouri. Stites added that rural Kansas is seeing high case rates, too.

If case numbers continue to decline in urban areas, Kansas and Missouri’s statewide numbers will likely do the same. But that doesn’t show the full picture: rising cases in rural parts of these states will keep hospitals overwhelmed for several more weeks.

How are hospitals holding up against the omicron variant?

The University of Kansas Health System is treating 117 patients with active COVID-19 infections as of Tuesday, Jan. 25. Twenty-seven of these patients are in the ICU, with 16 on ventilators. That’s a little lower than last week’s count of 126 active cases, but the 98 patients in recovery add up to a record total of COVID-19 patients at the hospital.

Experts say that supply chain issues and staffing shortages are continuing to cause challenges for hospital workers. For the last few weeks, around 50% of surgeries saw delays due to these issues. Surgeon Dr. Sean Kumer, who oversees the hospital’s operating rooms, says that’s down to 25% this week and hopefully will only continue to decrease.

“We put a lot of thought into that, and we don’t want to do that,” he said of delaying surgeries in a news briefing on Tuesday, Jan. 25. “We are trying to get back to normal as fast as possible.”

Here are some ways you can support healthcare workers, and five steps you can take to help ease the pressure on overwhelmed hospitals.

Do you have more questions about staying safe from COVID-19 in Kansas City? Ask our Service Journalism team at kcq@kcstar.com or fill out the form below.

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