COVID patient numbers continue to hold steady at The University of Kansas Health System today. 35 with the active virus are being treated, down from 36 yesterday. Only two of the 35 hospitalized with COVID are fully vaccinated. Seven of those patients are in the ICU, down from nine yesterday. Six are on ventilators, down from seven yesterday. 27 other patients are still hospitalized because of COVID but are out of the acute infection phase, an uptick from 24 yesterday. That’s a total of 62 patients, up from 60 yesterday.
Dr. Amber Schmidtke, Chair, Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, University of St. Mary joined the program to share the latest numbers, which have been trending upward with positive cases not seen since the August surge. “We really should be very concerned, because right now we know that Omicron is in all the states that surround us,’ she said. “It hasn’t been fully identified in the state of Kansas, but there’s no reason to suspect that it isn’t here.”
In looking at data for new case rates by region, the Midwest is rising quickly. The Northeast is also experiencing higher case rates, but is not experiencing hospitalizations at the same rate. Dr. Schmidtke attributes this to the better vaccination rates in the Northeast region with helping keep COVID positive people out of the hospital. The Northeast region has a vaccination rate of 72 percent, while the Midwest is at 55 percent.
Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at The University of Kansas Health System, echoed her assessment. “The vaccination is meant to protect you from severe disease -- going to the hospital or dying,” he said. “The vast majority of COVID patients in the hospital are unvaccinated. The vast majority who are dying are unvaccinated.”
More data on the Omicron variant is not yet available, so it’s been difficult to confirm the early indicators that Omicron is more transmissible, but leads to less severe symptoms, according to Dr. Hawkinson. He said that the course of treatment is the same for Delta or Omicron at this point – even if we don’t know the difference.
Dr. Schmidtke also pointed to a confluence of events that are combining to make the COVID situation more concerning – the “Thanksgiving effect” of being in larger groups, the upcoming holiday parties and gatherings, the move to more indoor events and the spread of a new variant that is thought to be more transmissible.
She also said that the dismissal of COVID protocols due to the claim that “99.9 percent of people survive COVID” can be misleading and dangerous. She said that is not true for all populations. “If you’re an 85-year-old, the chance of death is 19 percent,” she said. “If you’re 75-84, it’s one in ten. So those are higher numbers than many of us may be comfortable with.”
Dr. Schnidtke and Dr. Hawkinson also answered a number of community questions which included:
- Boosters for 16 and older? – The CDC approved this yesterday, so if it has been six months since the second dose, boosters are OK for that age group.
- Dwindling news coverage of COVID? – “We know COVID competes for airtime,” said Dr. Hawkinson. “We are seeing more news coverage coming out of Michigan and Massachusetts around hospital bed capacity. We don’t want to see that news here.” Also, this underscores the importance of programs like Morning Medical Update to devote needed time to providing more detailed information.
- Is eating indoors at restaurants safe? – Everybody needs to understand their risks and tolerances. It’s up to individuals to determine if they want to eat at a restaurant or get it as carryout.
- Are cruise ships safe? – “I think cruise ships continue to be higher risk,” said Dr. Hawkinson. “If you’re not outdoors on the deck, you’re in one of the larger dining areas or in enclosed spaces. You are just in such close quarters for a lot of the time on those ships.”
- Are doctors still advising politicians on mask mandates? – “We have to continue to endorse public health data and science – that is supported by accurate peer-reviewed data – to support methods for helping to reduce spread,” said Dr. Hawkinson.
- For younger kids 5-11, how protected are they? – Luckily, we know that younger children in general have reduced chances of being hospitalized and having less severe symptoms. The vaccine has been shown to be safe for them and is helping protect them as well.
- What about the uptick in cases for some local schools? – “We have to help prevent disease from entering schools,” said Dr. Schmidtke.
- When do vaccinations take full effect? – It starts to protect fairly quickly after the second dose, but typically two weeks are needed to achieve maximum immunity.
- What is immunity like if you have been infected, then vaccinated? – You may probably have more immunity, but you should get the booster as well if eligible.
- How long does Regeneron stay in your body? – Typical guidance is not to get vaccinated for 90 days after getting monoclonal antibodies.
- Is it still safe for outdoor events? – Football tailgating, and outdoor football games continue to seem to be safe events.
- Are second infections worse? – There have only been small studies on this, but results are variable. Some report the same symptoms, some have less severe symptoms, and some experience more severe symptoms. There’s more data on vaccine itself versus just reinfection that the vaccine helps reduce symptoms.
- Should I get a second dose of the flu shot? – There is currently no recommendation to get second dose of the flu shot.
Dr. Hawkinson also admitted that there is an aspect of COVID weariness syndrome – people are tired of hearing about it. “This is a pandemic of two populations – vaccinated and unvaccinated,” he said. “And if you want to help yourself, and help your bubble and help your family and your community, please continue to get vaccinated. And if you need that booster, please go get that booster.”
The program closed with another call for blood donors as the supply is down to one or two days. Call 1-877-468-6844 or visit www.savealifenow.org to donate.
Monday, December 13 at 8:00 a.m. is the next Morning Medical Update with guest Dr. Joseph McGuirk, Cellular Therapeutics and Medical Director, Blood and Marrow Transplant, The University of Kansas Health System. We are live inside the new space built to accommodate blood and marrow transplant patients and their families. The health system pushed to finish this expansion and it couldn’t have come at a better time as COVID cases are on the rise and bed space a concern already in many areas in the region.
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