Published on December 17, 2021

Sounding the alarm: Rising COVID-19 cases in the area

The alarm bells ringing around the COVID-19 pandemic continue to get louder and louder. This is especially evident with today’s news that the Omicron variant has been identified in Douglas County. Read today’s news release here.

Kansas City area chief medical officers (CMOs) and public health officials convened this morning to discuss the surge in COVID-19 cases and the ramifications it’s having on communities, healthcare systems and care. Watch the briefing here or visit Jennifer Schrimsher, MD, MPH, LMH Health infectious disease physician and deputy county health officer, also participated.

Dr. Steven Stites, CMO for The University of Kansas Health System, shared that the steep rise in area COVID hospitalizations is putting us back to where we were in fall and winter 2020.

“Case numbers are rapidly increasing and hospital capacity is a serious issue. We are in trouble. The problem is real and it is on our doorstep,” he warned. “This is a tornado warning for our community.”

Here are a few important messages from today’s meeting:

  • All of the CMOs shared that the majority of COVID positive inpatients in area hospitals aren’t vaccinated, especially those who are in the ICU. That is compounded by the fact that people have put off care during the pandemic, resulting in higher acuity illness and higher stress on the system.
  • Staffing is tight at all area hospitals. A physical bed might be available, but there aren’t enough nurses to staff the beds. This means that there may not immediately be a bed for you, if there’s one at all, if you suffer a heart attack, are injured in an auto accident or if a loved one falls and breaks a bone.
  • Influenza is in our communities and may be present until April or May. COVID and flu are spreading in schools and mask mandates are being lifted in some area schools. If schools were shut down again, it would have a huge impact on children’s health, mental well-being and nutrition status, according to Dr. Jennifer Watts, Children’s Mercy chief emergency management officer.
  • Hospitals are seeing younger people, particularly young pregnant women, with higher acuity COVID cases. Dr. Kimberly Megow, CMO for HCA Midwest Health, said a number have been in area ICUs. Some have to deliver early and the babies end up in the NICU. Pregnant women can and should be vaccinated.

It’s important to continue taking precautions to protect yourself against COVID-19 and its variants. Dr. Schrimsher reminded listeners to the call that we already know what to do.

“It’s the same thing we’ve said since the beginning – wear a mask – especially in indoor public spaces and outdoor crowded spaces, get your COVID vaccine and when you’re eligible, get a booster,” she said. “Cases in this region have increased exponentially in the past few weeks. As we transition to Omicron, I have little doubt that we will see a further rise in cases and accompanying rise in positivity, if members of the community continue to be lax about mitigation.”

Dr. Schrimsher also said that it’s time to rethink your holiday plans in light of the resurgence of COVID in the area:

“Celebrate with members of your own household instead of traveling across the country. Wear your masks, open the windows if the weather allows and maintain distance. Don’t just think about the risk to yourself – think more about those around you. Do you have older or immunocompromised family members? Does your coworker have someone at home who might be higher risk? Be cognizant of their well-being as well. Please share this message with your family and friends. Share it through your social media channels. The alarm bells are ringing long and loud. Now is the time to act.”

Sounding the alarm: Rising COVID-19 cases in the area

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