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Rural doctors expect more COVID-19 cases as restrictions are lifted
350 1st doses 2-22-21

Local doctors said they expect more confirmed cases of COVID-19, even though there has been a slight downturn in the latest number of those patients being care for at the University of Kansas Health System. As a meeting Tuesday in Kansas City, Kan., Heather Harris, DO, Medical Director HaysMed Campus; Christian Whittington, MD, Family Medicine, Pawnee Valley Campus in Larned; and Mark Van Norden, DO, Family Medicine, Great Bend Campus joined the panel to put the COVID-19 risk into perspective in rural areas.

The following information is from Tuesday’s media briefing from The University of Kansas Health System, which reports 25 patients are being treated for the virus at its facilities, down from 28 on Monday; 11 of those patients were in ICU, same as Monday. Doctors said the steady numbers reflect the bent curve and hope to keep these levels, rather than see a big surge as society begins to reopen.

Dr. Harris in Hays said they’ve seen a steady rise in the number of COVID-19 patients but have had months to plan and put procedures into place to treat them. She stressed the facility is open and safe and she encourages people to come for treatment. The restriction on visitors will be in place for the foreseeable future. She also discussed the special precautions taken with patients from nursing homes and says when it comes to youth summer sports in rural areas, it’s best to follow the phased-in guidelines from the governor’s office. 

Dr. Whittington from Pawnee Valley said his facility is using more telehealth visits. He said even though no cases of the virus have been diagnosed there, they are aware that COVID-19 is all around and are taking the same strict precautions as all medical facilities. He expects there to be new cases when society reopens and says they will be ready.

Dr. VanNorden in Great Bend said it’s very likely there are undiagnosed COVID-19 cases in his community and is concerned about what will happen when restrictions are gradually lifted. He expects to see the number of cases go up as testing increases, and said that in getting back to normal life, there are a lot of gray areas. Like all the doctors, he said personal responsibility will ultimately be what keeps the numbers down.

Dana Hawkinson, MD, medical director of infection prevention and control at The University of Kansas Health System, said the reality of reopening society is that there will be an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients. He explains we know the disease spreads like wildfire, is hyper-contagious and is everywhere. He says it never really left during the stay-at-home orders.

Steve Stites, MD, chief medical officer at the health system, said there will be a coronavirus comeback, and we must be ready for the second wave of cases. He says the “heat map” of cases in Kansas looks a lot different today than a month ago, mostly due to clusters of patients, like those in nursing homes or any places of work catching the disease. He says each of us must determine our own acceptable risk, and personal responsibility will be the key to keeping COVID-19 manageable until a vaccine and treatment is found.