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State sees another dip in new COVID-19 cases, though experts fear Thanksgiving fallout

Andrew Bahl
abahl@gannett.com
Salena Gillum, left, administrative director of medical surgical and critical care at Stormont Vail Hospital, walks down a hallway with nurses on Nov. 18 as COVID-19 cases put the hospital at capacity.

Kansas reported another dip in COVID-19 cases Monday, with the state reporting an increase of 4,425 infections since Friday.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment also reported 87 new hospitalizations in that timeframe, as well as an increase of 31 deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities linked to the virus to 1,560. Most deaths remain concentrated in those age 65 and older.

While the number of new cases is a decrease from earlier in the fall, it is still above what the state was seeing earlier in the pandemic.

Officials have urged caution, however, noting that part of the decrease could be related to fewer tests being run over the Thanksgiving holiday.

The percent of tests coming back positive in Kansas spiked again Monday to a 38.1% average over the last seven days, the fourth highest rate in the country.

And hospital capacity remains a concern.

As of Friday, 21% of intensive care beds in the state were open and staffed, according to data from the Kansas Hospital Association, although 45% of facilities surveyed reported concerns about low staffing levels in the next week.

Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka reported that not much has changed, with the hospital still at or near capacity.

“Monday paints a similar picture of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations that we have been experiencing the past week or so,” Stormont Vail CEO Robert Kenagy said in a statement.

Kenagy said that roughly 30% tests conducted in the Topeka region were coming back positive, three times the rate in September.

Officials at the University of Kansas Medical Center said they saw new hospitalizations plateau over the weekend but that trend reversed Monday morning.

And in southwest Kansas, intensive care capacity has dwindled to 5%, according to KHA.

Public health officials also remain concerned about fallout from Thanksgiving, although it is too soon to attribute any of the current reported infections to the holiday.

The concern remains that those who gathered without masks or social distancing could fuel another spike in cases and hospitalizations in the coming days.

Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said Monday that those who traveled for the holiday should assume they are infected, something echoed by other public health experts as well.

“I’m more worried about what Thanksgiving is going to do in another 10 or 14 days,” said Steve Stites, chief medical officer for KU Medical Center.