A new Centers for Disease Control study out today said that masks worked in Kansas counties that adopted mask orders.
Dr. Lee Norman, Kansas secretary of health, said researchers studied COVID-19 rates in Kansas, comparing counties that had mask mandates to counties that did not have mask mandates. The governor issued the mask mandate in early July, but most counties decided to opt out of it.
The study showed a decrease in COVID-19 rates in counties that had mask mandates, he said.
Secretary Norman made his comments during a remote meeting on Friday morning with county and city leaders across Kansas. He said Kansas added 5,939 cases statewide since Wednesday, for a cumulative 134,533, and an additional 84 deaths statewide, for a cumulative 1,410.
He said Kansas hospitals are under a tremendous amount of strain, especially where staffing is concerned. A lot of empty hospital beds in Kansas are unstaffed beds.
Dr. Norman said they are working to help increase staffing through agency staff. They also will use an existing program that will allow hospitals to find beds with one phone call, instead of spending hours on it, which should help small hospitals.
Kansas is in the red zone, Dr. Norman said, and has the fifth highest rate in the country in terms of positivity. It is the 11th highest for new cases. He said they are following the White House Task Force recommendations for universal mask use and increased testing.
“What we must do is push down the number of new cases,” he said.
They continue to prepare for distribution of vaccines, and will do a distribution trial before the vaccines arrive, he said. The state has a plan on the KDHE website for distribution.
Expanded testing has begun with CARES relief funds, he said. Sampling and transportation has been the most challenging part of the process, and the state has contracted with three entities to help guide people to testing sites, he said. The program has a goal of less than 36 hours for test results.
Wyandotte County was one of the counties that adopted mask orders early, and one is still in effect here. With the mask and distancing orders still in effect, Wyandotte County added a new limit on gatherings of 10 persons starting today, and also a new 10 p.m. curfew on restaurants and bars starting today.
Gov. Laura Kelly earlier this week issued a new mask mandate for all of Kansas, that will give local counties the option of designing their own mask ordinances within the next week.
At the meeting with local officials today, Gov. Kelly said she was resuming regular calls with local leaders because COVID-19 is spreading in the state at an alarming level.
Increases in cases are the worst seen since the pandemic began, she said. Hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.
With her new mask order, cities or counties can adopt their own local ordinances, and the individual cities can decide how to enforce them, she said.
She discussed her new unified testing strategy, and also a partnership with the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita to mobilize leaders for nonpartisan groups to encourage support for efforts that will flatten the curve.
So far, more than 30 communities have created their own local mask ordinances or adopted the state order, she said. The governor said face coverings do not limit what people can do or where they can go, but just the opposite, they help keep businesses open, the schools open and the economy open.
The county commissioners and local leaders also heard from Pete Meitzner, a Sedgwick County commissioner, who said Wichita area hospitals have had escalating COVID-19 rates for the past few weeks.
No matter how much they limit size gatherings and hours of operations at bars in Sedgwick County, they still have an impact from neighboring county residents that don’t have an awareness of the problem in their county, he said.
He has reached out to the officials in surrounding counties asking them to to help.
For some reason they’re not coming together to help manage this hospital crisis in the way they usually handle problems, he said. He said they can’t do this by themselves.
“Just know what you’re doing in your own county may be having a large, large positive or negative impact in places like Sedgwick and Johnson County, which are large economic engines for the state,” he said.
At the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kansas, today, Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control reported similar COVID-19 case numbers to Thursday. The hospital had its highest number of COVID-19 cases ever this week.
There were 78 active COVID-19 patients hospitalized, an increase of one from Thursday; with 34 patients in the intensive care unit, a decrease from 36 on Thursday, he said. The number of ICU patients on ventilators went up to 21 today, an increase of eight, which is the largest percentage recently.
There were an additional 47 COVID-19 patients at the hospital who were out of the acute infection phase, an increase of two from Thursday. In all, there was a total of 125 patients, an increase from 122 on Thursday.
There were two additional deaths at the hospital since Thursday, with the cumulative number of deaths at 119 since the beginning of the pandemic.
HaysMed at Hays, Kansas, reported 35 COVID-19 inpatients, with two in the recovery phase, a decrease of one since Thursday. There was one COVID-19 death reported at HaysMed.
Doctors support mask-wearing
At a news conference Friday morning at the University of Kansas Health System, Dr. David Wild, vice president of performance improvement, said that anything that can increase adherence to masking across the state will be beneficial to everyone.
The mask order appears to give everyone the opportunity to decide what is best for their community, he said. Dr. Wild said he was supportive of counties adopting measures similar to the governor’s recommendations, based on the effect those interventions will have on the community.
Dr. Hawkinson said no one likes to wear masks, but they are safe and they do not make people weak. Most of the general population can wear masks, with a few medical exceptions, he said.
Colorado adopted a mask-wearing rule early because it needed to keep its tourism industry going, and it went very well, Dr. Hawkinson said.
Mitigation strategies such as masking and distancing, help to reduce hospitalizations and deaths, he said. Infection is widespread in Kansas right now, and in the Midwest, and it is important to continue to enact mask mandates in order for businesses to stay open, he said.
Amanda Gartner, director of quality, safety and infection prevention and control, said, “We know it works, we know it prevents the disease.”
The doctors also discussed front-line medical workers who are sometimes facing tiredness and exhaustion.
“Everyone’s working really hard right now and everyone’s tired,” Dr. Wild said. “Everyone has the desire to provide the best care possible for anyone who needs it.”
“People are tired, but feeling that together we can tackle this,” he said. “We will continue to do our absolute best.”
According to Dr. Wild, if the case numbers are high today, it will affect hospitalizations in the next three to four weeks.
Wyandotte County reported a cumulative 9,958 COVID-19 cases on Friday, an increase of 140 cases since Thursday, according to the Unified Government COVID-19 webpage. There were 177 deaths reported, an increase of six deaths since Thursday.
Free COVID-19 testing available on Saturday
Free COVID-19 testing will be available from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Nov. 21, at the Beatrice Lee Community Center, 1310 N. 10th St., Kansas City, Kansas.
The test is for anyone who lives or works in Wyandotte County. No registration is required. Free flu shots also will be available.
The pop-up test is through Vibrant Health and the Wyandotte County Health Equity Task Force.
Those who get a COVID-19 test or a flu shot at the Beatrice Lee Center also will get a free turkey or chicken, while supplies last.
The Unified Government Health Department has moved its COVID-19 testing from the 6th and Ann location to the former Kmart at 78th and State Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas. The hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Tests are free for those who live or work in Wyandotte County. The tests are now saliva COVID-19 tests.
The tests now are open to asymptomatic people as well as those who have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19. Check with the UG Health Department’s Facebook page to see if there have been any changes in the schedule. Bring something that shows that you live or work in Wyandotte County, such as a utility bill.
For more information about the testing site at the former Kmart location, visit https://alpha.wycokck.org/files/assets/public/health/documents/covid/10092020_newtestingsitewyco.pdf.
The KU doctors’ news conference is at https://www.facebook.com/kuhospital/videos/1224864451234177.
The new Wyandotte County health order with a limit of 10 persons to a gathering, and a closing time of 10 p.m. for restaurants and bars, with other new restrictions, is at https://alpha.wycokck.org/files/assets/public/health/documents/covid/11162020localhealthorderexecuted.pdf.
The UG COVID-19 webpage is at https://alpha.wycokck.org/Coronavirus-COVID-19-Information.
The KDHE’s COVID-19 webpage is at https://www.coronavirus.kdheks.gov/.
The KC Region COVID-19 Hub dashboard is at https://marc2.org/covidhub/.
The Wyandotte County page on the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 website is at https://bao.arcgis.com/covid-19/jhu/county/20209.html.
The CDC’s COVID-19 webpage is at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.