As COVID hospitalizations rise, KU Health System declines to admit patients from other hospitals
TOPEKA — A major Kansas health system is declining to admit patients from other hospitals because it has too few open beds with the faster-spreading delta variant wiping out recent months of progress for the state in containing COVID-19.
Dr. Steve Stites, the chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Health System, said Wednesday that the bed space problem at its main hospital in Kansas City, Kan., is now worse than it was last fall, when the average number of new cases per day was climbing toward pandemic highs. He said the hospital had open beds then because people were wearing masks and practicing social distancing, and doctors weren’t seeing other infections.
Kansas is seeing its highest averages for new COVID-19 cases since late February as confirmed cases of the fast-spreading delta variant surge, data shows. Stites said the University of Kansas Health System was turning down between one and six patient transfers per day, and the problem will get worse as new cases keep climbing.
“We are full as a hospital, and because we are full, we cannot take transfers,” Stites said during a daily webcast. “The rest of our hospital is running full steam.”
Stites’ comments came a day after the health system announced that thousands of employees will receive bonuses of $1,250 after battling the coronavirus pandemic. A spokesperson called the bonuses “a special thank-you gift,” The Kansas City Star reported.
Top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature ended a state of emergency for the pandemic on June 15 over Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s objections. The following week, the average number of new cases per day dropped below 100 for the first time in a year.
But new cases have been rising over the past four weeks. State Department of Health and Environment data showed that Kansas had an average of 495 new cases per day during the seven-day period that ended Wednesday, which was more than double the average for the seven-day period that ended July 7, two weeks earlier.
Confirmed delta variant cases tripled during that two-week period, from 358 on July 7 to 1,104 as of Wednesday. Confirming which variant sickened someone requires genetic testing of the patient’s nasal swab or saliva sample, and 7.8% of the samples from positive COVID-19 results have undergone such testing this month.
Kelly so far has remained focused on increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday that about 1.26 million Kansas residents, or 43.2% of the state’s 2.9 million residents, have been fully vaccinated. That lagged behind the national rate of 48.8% and far behind the state with the highest rate, Vermont, where 67.1% of people had been inoculated as of Wednesday. Vaccinations in Kansas peaked in early April.
Asked Tuesday at the Statehouse whether there is a point at which she’d consider declaring another state of emergency, the governor said “there is no red line.”
“We’re focused on doing what we can to get people vaccinated and make the delta variant irrelevant to them,” she told The Topeka Capital-Journal.