Kansas' first post-Christmas COVID numbers show omicron variant now confirmed in nine counties

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COVID-19 tests are passed off to the lab for instant processing Thursday at Holton Community Hospital.
COVID-19 tests are passed off to the lab for instant processing Thursday at Holton Community Hospital.

The first COVID-19 report after Christmas shows the new omicron variant has been detected in nine Kansas counties, while hospitals continue to feel the brunt of the surge.

"Stormont Vail Health, like other hospitals in our region, continues to feel the impact of the pandemic with almost all of our staffed beds full today," hospital CEO Robert Kenagy said in a Monday statement to the Topeka area community. "The COVID-19 virus didn’t take a holiday."

Stormont Vail reported that all its intensive care beds were full as of Monday morning. The hospital was still accepting "limited adult patient transfers for those needing medical-surgical level care." It is continuing to accept trauma patients and pregnant, laboring, pediatric and neonatal transfers.

"We are making every effort to serve our region," Kenagy said. "Even if we are unable to take a transfer, our team can provide consults and support in stabilizing patients while an appropriate care location is found."

"We are extremely grateful to our healthcare team for their work in caring for our patients through this surge, taking on extra responsibilities and shifts, and taking care of each other," he said.

Only 6% of hospital's COVID-19 patients are fully vaccinated with their second dose or booster shot within the past six months.

The vaccination rate continues to be stagnant in Kansas. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reports 58.9% of Kansans have gotten a first shot.

State demographic data show 9,031 people, including 2,193 children, had a first dose reported between Wednesday and Monday.

About 51% of Kansans are fully vaccinated, per KDHE counts, while roughly 18% of people have gotten a booster shot.

More: With omicron variant looming, Kansas hospitals hit with COVID-19 face familiar challenges

COVID-19 rates in Kansas

The KDHE on Monday reported 6,939 new cases, 119 new hospitalizations, 16 new ICU admissions and 14 new deaths. Children accounted for 1,113 new infections and one hospitalization. The increases were since the last KDHE report on Wednesday.

It is unclear how the Christmas weekend may have affected the pandemic numbers. Family gatherings could ultimately lead to further spread of the virus, but it is likely too soon to tell, especially if the holiday also impacted testing clinic hours and administrative reporting.

State data showed a surge across all age groups in the week after Thanksgiving, and further increases among children two weeks after the holiday.

School-aged children had the highest case rates during most of the fall semester. Now, with classes out for winter break, children no longer top the chart. The highest case rates are now in the 25-34 age group, followed by 18-24 and 35-44.

New hospital admissions included patients in every age group except infant to 9 years old.

The deaths included patients in the 18-24, 45-54, 55-64, 65-74, 75-84 and 85-plus age groups. Demographic data show most of the deceased patients were white and male.

Kansas has now recorded 512,461 COVID-19 cases, 16,846 hospitalizations and 6,964 deaths since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Trends suggest the state could hit 7,000 cumulative deaths before the end of the year.

More: 'Public health has been left in the dark': Kansas expert on why people are leaving field

More omicron cases in Kansas

Public health officials identified the first confirmed omicron case in southwest Kansas. The variant has also been detected in the central, northeast and southeast regions of the state.

Kansas went from 19 confirmed omicron cases spread across Wyandotte, Sedgwick, Johnson, Douglas, Franklin, McPherson and Crawford counties as of last week to 25 cases on Monday, adding Leavenworth and Finney counties to the list.

The number of variant cases could be much larger because only 2.1% of all COVID-19 cases this month have undergone genomic sequencing to determine the strain of coronavirus.

The delta variant continues to be the dominant strain statewide. Since mid-July, delta has accounted for about 99% of all sequenced cases.

Testing data show omicron started with less than 1% of cases three weeks ago and grew to about 8% of cases two weeks ago. Omicron accounted for 40% of cases last week, but the sample size for the holiday week has so far been significantly smaller than usual.

Delta has been highly contagious, and early reports indicate omicron is even more infectious. However, omicron is believed to cause less severe illness.

All 105 Kansas counties have high community spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At Stormont Vail, the positive test rate over the past week was 20.4%. Kenagy has previously said that "5% positivity indicates community spread and 10% positivity indicates uncontrolled spread."

More: Despite omicron fears, Kansas state workers to return to their physical offices in January

Flu season

The coronavirus pandemic is sending a surge of patients to the hospital at the same time seasonal influenza is picking up.

"We've noticed an increase in hospitalizations due to the flu," KDHE officials said in a Facebook post Monday. "As long as flu viruses are circulating, it's not too late to get a flu vaccine. Make time to roll your sleeve up and get your flu vaccine before the new year begins.

"It is more important than ever to protect yourself and the people around you, and to help reduce the strain on health care systems that are still responding to the COVID-19 pandemic."

Emergency department visit data, which lags about two weeks, show a rising percentage of hospital ER visits for COVID-19 and the flu. The most recent statewide percentage of emergency visits for the flu was the highest it has been since the pandemic hit Kansas in March 2020.

The latest state data show Kansas has had cases of Influenza A/H3, Influenza A and Rhinovirus/Enterovirus.

Influenza surveillance data released Monday by KDHE show one death directly caused by the flu and two additional deaths with flu as a contributing cause have been reported so far this season.

Health and medical experts have predicted this flu season will be worse than last year's — due in large part to the relaxing of mask requirements and other mitigation measures — which could make this winter COVID-19 surge more taxing on hospitals than previous waves.

In the 2020-21 flu season, Kansas recorded four deaths directly caused by the flu and two deaths with flu as a contributing cause. In the 2019-20 season, Kansas had 118 deaths directly caused by the flu and 23 with flu as a contributing cause.

Jason Tidd is a statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached by email at jtidd@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jason_Tidd.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas reports more omicron cases post-Christmas, COVID surge concerns

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