Kansas coronavirus

Sometimes, Becky Angell doesn’t even realize she’s started crying.

She’s been a nurse for seven years, and worked in an intensive care unit in Olathe for the past two. She loves her job and is used to seeing people die.

But the past months of caring for one desperately ill COVID-19 patient after another have left her overwhelmed and in tears at the dinner table and on the drive home from work.

WICHITA, Kansas — Spring break is canceled.

Public universities in Kansas made the call early in the fall as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19. They reasoned that during a pandemic it’s just not a good idea to give students a week to spend in South Beach, or even just travel to see family.

Yet Kansas State University students said they need at least some time off because of another health crisis — the damage to their mental health posed by a semester without a pause. K-State agreed and scheduled a “wellness day” for the spring.

More than a quarter of Kansans have gotten at least their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. And starting March 29, all Kansans ages 16 and up will be eligible for the shots.

From Kaiser Health News

Keely Connolly thought she would be safe once the ambulance arrived at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center in Kansas.

She was having difficulty breathing because she’d had to miss a kidney dialysis treatment a few days earlier for lack of child care. Her potassium was dangerously high, putting her at risk of a heart attack. But she trusted she would be fine once she was admitted and dialysis was begun.

For starters, the COVID-19 vaccine doses intended for Ness County in west-central Kansas landed somewhere else.

“That was my first clue we had a problem,” said Carolyn Gabel, the county’s public health administrator.

Then someone from Dodge City called. Those vials bound for Ness City? They hadn’t been kept as cold as needed. They were no good anymore and needed replacing.

COVID-19 poses such dire risks to older people in nursing homes that even vaccines won’t guarantee a quick end to their pandemic isolation.

Tens of thousands of workers and residents at Kansas long-term care facilities will get vaccinated over the next three months. But families aching to visit after such a long separation may not have easy access to their loved ones for several more months at least.

“We will not be clicking our fingers and returning to normal,” said William Hanage, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard University. “There is not a silver bullet.”

LAWRENCE, Kansas — In north Lawrence, the city set up 20 white-and-gray tents in a park to house people who are homeless.

It’s not health care, or COVID-19 tests, but federal coronavirus tax dollars are paying for the camp.

“If we put our homeless population into the shelter, there’s a higher chance that they’ll get the virus and then they’ll spread it across the community,” Douglas County Commissioner Patrick Kelly said.

WICHITA, Kansas — The way kids in Kansas learn to read is in for a major rewrite.

Teachers will soon ditch their time-worn old memorize-and-context-clues methods. In their place, they’ll work with state teacher colleges on new styles meant to accommodate dyslexic students and other children who struggle with books. For instance, they’ll train kids to break down words and to methodically drill through English’s tricky rules.

Truman Medical Centers vaccinated frontline workers against COVID-19 Monday, making it the first hospital in Kansas City to implement inoculations and marking a major milestone in the fight against the pandemic.

ICU nurse Sarah Kiehl was the first Truman staff member to get the coronavirus vaccine. She's worked in the COVID unit since the start of the pandemic.

Phyllis McCosh was born in 1920, just after the last major pandemic. A century later, she died as a victim of the current pandemic.

McCosh taught piano for the greater part of that century and elementary school music for a third of it. She was born on a farm and spent most of her life on another one, just north of Abilene, Kansas.

When we last talked with Lynn Hutchinson, a nurse working the COVID-19 intensive care unit at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis, it was July, and Sedgwick County was in the middle of its first big coronavirus wave.

"I think the last time I talked to you, I remember saying I wish I could get on my roof and yell, 'Wear your mask!'" Hutchinson recalled.

"Well, I apparently didn't yell loud enough."

WICHITA, Kansas — The first of potentially several COVID-19 vaccines could get emergency approval by the end of the week.

But that major milestone is just the beginning of the work for local and state health departments in Kansas that will have to get the pandemic-stalling shots to people — and decide who gets it first, when and how.

EUDORA, Kansas — In 1979, a young boy fell asleep on his father’s chest in their Scott City, Kansas, home. His mother snapped a photo.

A week ago, that father died of COVID-19 in the local nursing home. Marvin Farr’s son, Courtney Farr, penned an obituary.

The Kansas National Guard conducted 28,000 COVID-19 tests and distributed almost 40,000 cases of protective masks, gloves and gowns. Guardsmen have also packaged a staggering 8 million meals. But even as hospitals fill with COVID-19 patients and deaths mount, the guard's pandemic mission is going the other direction.

Col. Michael Venerdi, director of Joint Staff for the Kansas National Guard, says the pandemic mission has stretched throughout most of the year.

Dozens of Kansas nursing homes still wait three days to a week for overwhelmed labs to tell them if their residents have COVID-19.

FREDONIA, Kansas — Nick Baldetti resigned as director of the Reno County Health Department in July.

He left to head an effort to establish a school of health at McPherson College. It was a good opportunity, Baldetti said, but he likely would have stayed to see the department through the pandemic if not for the 80-hour work weeks, the hostile political environment and the threats to his family.

At least 73 Kansas counties now require masks. The true number could be higher as the dust settles on a midnight deadline for each county to decide.

That’s a sharp increase since the summer, when all but 25 of the state’s 105 counties rejected Gov. Laura Kelly’s statewide mask rules.

WICHITA — Coronavirus cases are at record levels. Just in time to pretty much ruin Thanksgiving.

In Kansas, those cases have hospitals worried about having enough space or staff. That’s prompted local, state and federal officials to urge people to just stay home.

We spoke with three Kansans about their decisions to cancel trips to see family — and the loss that represents.

Wichita’s Eisenhower National Airport is looking at a slower-than-normal holiday travel season as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns against traveling at all.

Hospitals in Colorado and Nebraska are calling Kansas in desperate search of beds for coronavirus patients. But Kansas hospitals are asking them for the same.

November has brought on the strongest surge yet of the coronavirus across the region — and that’s before Thanksgiving gathers families together.

“The entire Midwest is on fire,” said Steven Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System.

Editor's Note: On Nov. 13, Emporia State University announced that it will provide free tests to students that want one before traveling. 

WICHITA, Kansas — In just two weeks, thousands of college students in Kansas will board planes and hop into cars daydreaming of sweet potatoes and turkey legs.

Most of those students won’t return to campus for the rest of the semester. To cut the risk of spreading the coronavirus, the majority of universities in Kansas will have students finish the fall semester online.

This year, nurses in southeast Kansas are taking a NASCAR-style approach in the race against the flu.

Imagine a pit crew, said Lori Rexwinkle, head of nursing at a community health center that serves 10 counties. Except instead of speed-swapping tires, this team vaccinates passengers. Got a van full of kids? Just pull it on up.

“We had several different nurses going out to the vehicle at the same time,” Rexwinkle said. “Parents appreciated that.”

STILWELL, Kansas — After Doug Reed put his elderly father’s Johnson County home up for sale, the mailbox started to fill up with letters from the Kansas Department of Labor, sometimes 25 or 30 at a time.

“We had two or three big batches of them, and they’ve been dribbling in ever since,” Reed said.

Within a couple weeks, about 130 letters had arrived, all bearing his father’s street address but addressed to different names.

For the first time during the pandemic, Dr. Drew Miller was unable to send a severely ill COVID patient to the intensive care unit.

Miller and other staff at the Kearny County Hospital, in southwestern Kansas, had done what they could last weekend, putting the patient on a maximum oxygen flow. But the closest ICU in the area was one county over — St. Catherine Hospital in Garden City — and it was full. The nearest open ICU bed was in Kansas City, seven hours away.

KU Med Resumes Clinical Trials For COVID-19 Vaccine

Oct 30, 2020

The University of Kansas Medical Center has resumed Phase III clinical trials of a COVID-19 vaccine that was halted last month after an enrollee in the United Kingdom developed an adverse reaction.

“We literally just got released by the FDA on Friday and then yesterday we got released from the IRB [Institutional Review Board], so we couldn’t start actually enrolling until today,” said Dr. Mario Castro, vice chair for clinical and translational research at KU Med and a co-principal investigator for the local trials.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are near all-time highs in the Kansas City area, and local hospital leaders say admissions are being pushed over the top by patients coming from rural areas.

Official data from Missouri shows that hospitals still have plenty of room, but doctors and nurses say their facilities have been reaching capacity, forcing hospitals to turn patients away in some cases.

Health officials say the availability of health care for people in the Kansas City area is now being threatened by this influx of patient from communities that lack mask mandates.

WICHITA, Kansas — Amid a surge of coronavirus cases across rural Kansas, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly provided details on her new statewide testing plan Wednesday, adding 400,000 more by the end of the year.

That's nearly double the amount of tests available now, with the goal of reaching a total of 1 million tests. The extra capacity is expected to go to schools and high-risk populations, like those living and working at nursing homes.

LENEXA, Kansas — For months, the people at a Johnson County lab found themselves consumed, running an endless parade of tests on human spit.

The feds hadn’t yet OK’d a single saliva test for COVID-19, but the scientists at Clinical Reference Laboratory were sure they could design something that worked.

For most of the COVID-19 pandemic's duration, Kansas and Missouri have been spared from the overwhelming crush of cases that overwhelmed hospitals and communities on the coasts and in the South.

But the current surge, which has been breaking records for case numbers in both states, is occurring in ways previously unseen in the U.S. and showing red flags for disease experts.

And it's happening as more and more members of the general public have grown increasingly impatient with governments taking steps to control it.

TOPEKA — Health care workers and long-term care residents will be among those who will get the coronavirus vaccine first in Kansas, a draft plan shows.

Kansas’ 45-page plan was filed in the past week with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other groups that will be prioritized for the initial rounds of vaccinations include people with underlying medical conditions, people 65 and older and essential workers.

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