John Hanna
Kansas government and politics reporter
APjdhannajdhanna@ap.org

Kansas sees record COVID cases; hospital workers sidelined

January 3, 2022 GMT

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Kansas on Monday reported a record seven-day average for new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, as one of the state’s largest hospitals struggled to treat an influx of patients.

State health department data shows Kansas reported an average of 3,134 new COVID-19 cases a day for the seven days ending Monday. That’s 13% higher than the previous record of 2,767 cases per day for the seven days ending Nov. 18, 2020.

The state also averaged 38 new COVID-19 hospitalizations and 11 additional reported deaths per day for the seven days ending Monday. Meanwhile, the omicron variant was spreading in the state.

While the average for new hospitalizations isn’t a record, hospitals are still under stress because of new patients and infected employees. At the University of Kansas Hospital, more than 500 out of more than 13,000 employees are sick or awaiting test results, said Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kansas, during a media call Monday.

The illnesses come as the hospital is treating 108 COVID-19 patients, up from 40 on Dec. 1.

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“We’ve had to scale back on some elective surgeries and clinics and things like that, and all hospitals in our area are having to take similar measures because you’ve got to keep your staff safe. You may not have quite enough people to be able to do all the work,” he said.

He said vaccination would have prevented all but a handful of the COVID-19 patients from being hospitalized, freeing up beds for other patients.

“I think what we have to remember is that COVID-19, when you’re unvaccinated, just doesn’t affect the unvaccinated,” he said. “It affects everyone because it takes the hospitalizations and it fills up the hospital so much, and staff get so sick that it means we don’t have enough people here to take care of everybody, which means we have to scale things back. And that’s the level we’re all at.”

He also urged people to wear masks in public, even as leaders in nearby Johnson County prepared to decide Thursday whether to scrap their current school mask mandate for elementary school children or leave it in place through the spring semester.

“If you want to keep schools open and you want to keep businesses open, you’ve got to keep people healthy,” he said. “You’re either not going to have enough teachers or enough staff or too many students out in this omicron wave to think it’s going to really have successful schools, in my opinion, or the business is going to be able to work if they don’t have enough employees.”

The state health department also reported Monday that coronavirus variants have been confirmed in all 105 Kansas counties, with most cases — more than 10,500 — being the delta variant. The state said it had confirmed 103 cases of the new omicron variant and listed 18 counties as having them.

As cases rise, the Topeka Municipal Court is suspending the majority of its in-person dockets due to an increase in community spread of COVID-19 in Shawnee County. The suspension starts Monday and is expected to last through Jan. 14. The city announced the decision last month.

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Hanna reported from Topeka.

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