COVID cases spike in region

Rural areas starting to see increases. Several health and public safety agencies have reported new cases.

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November 6, 2020 - 5:06 PM

As COVID-19 cases rise in Allen County and the region, it’s important to continue to take precautionary measures to limit the spread of infection, a Saint Luke’s infectious disease physician said.

The total confirmed COVID-19 cases in Allen County grew to 175, an increase of 32 since last week. Public health and safety agencies have reported new cases as well.

The county had 61 positive cases as of Thursday evening, according to updates from the Southeast Kansas Multi-County Health Departments. On Monday, Allen County had 31 active cases, which grew to 32 on Tuesday and 53 on Wednesday.

COVID-19 cases have been reported among staff at Allen County Regional Hospital’s Iola clinic and the Iola clinic of the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, the Humboldt Police Department (see related article) and a residential care facility for the disabled, among others. Iola Middle School announced a student had tested positive, as well as a staff member at Lincoln Elementary/IMS.

ACRH’s Iola clinic confirmed several staff members had been infected and shut down the office for a few hours Tuesday afternoon, but said the risk to patients and others was considered very low.

The clinic closed Tuesday to clean the facility after staff members tested positive. Because patients and visitors are screened upon arrival, clinic and hospital staff could easily track which patients may have come into contact with anyone who was infected and for how long. That information revealed none of the patients met criteria from the CDC or KDHE that required notification, but the hospital was calling to inform them of the situation “out of an abundance of caution,” Traci Plumlee, with Saint Luke’s Health System, said. Saint Luke’s leases ACRH, including the clinic.

The clinic requires everyone who enters the building to wear masks and practice social distancing. 

Also, a cluster of cases was reported Oct. 24 at Goodlife Innovations in Iola, formerly CLO, which provides services including residential living for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Goodlife reported 10 cases, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

HOSPITALS across the state have reported an increase in patients because of the coronavirus. 

Hospitals in the Saint Luke’s Health System, which primarily includes the Kansas City Metro area, have seen a steady increase over the past several weeks, according to Dr. Sarah Boyd, a physician with the Saint Luke’s who specializes in infectious diseases. 

The system also is starting to see an increase in COVID cases at its rural critical access hospitals, which include hospitals in Iola and Garnett, and Trenton and Chillicothe in Missouri. 

“Our rural areas are really starting to see their first waves compared to urban areas. Rural areas are often later hit,” Boyd said. “In the city we started to see more cases in August and September. A lot of rural places have seen an increase in the last month or so.”

Though the hospital system is seeing increased cases, so far they’ve had enough available beds to meet the need, Boyd said. 

“We have multiple hospitals so that does help us form a capacity standpoint,” she said. “Sometimes we need to be a little more flexible, and you might end up at a location that’s a little farther away, but we’ve been able to make it work.”

Allen County benefits from its relationship to Saint Luke’s because of access to specialized care, Boyd said. Saint Luke’s has a “transfer team” that coordinates the response when a COVID patient is hospitalized. Smaller hospitals may have a difficult time finding beds unless they are connected to a larger system, she said.

“It can be a lot of work to get someone transferred,” she said. “It makes sense to have that innate connection to your sister hospital. Hopefully Allen County will feel that support.”

The Kansas City Metro region is averaging about 487 COVID patients per day, according to the Mid-America Regional Council which tracks such data. That includes an average of 122 patients in intensive-care units each day and 60 on ventilators each day.

Most people infected with COVID-19 will have minor symptoms or none at all. About 20% will be hospitalized; about a quarter of those who are hospitalized will end up in the ICU, and about 5% of those patients will need a ventilator.

Those who are admitted to the ICU because of COVID tend to have much longer stays than those admitted for other reasons, such as the flu, Boyd said. Recovery time, in general, also is longer than other illnesses.

It’s important to continue to take preventative measures like wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands and avoiding large gatherings, Boyd said.

“Back in March, when we talked about flattening the curve and everything went to a standstill, the idea was not to make it go away but to spread it out so there weren’t big surges when people needed medical care,” she said.

“As we’re getting busier and with the holidays coming up, think about that idea of trying to flatten the curve. It’s just as important now. If we can all pull together, it will make a difference.”

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