Local healthcare experts weigh in on growing delta variant concerns

Coronavirus in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Growing concerns as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to spread across Kansas, and so far, it has been found in 58 counties.

Current Kansas Department of Health and Environment data shows 950 cases of the delta variant, with just under a quarter coming from Sedgwick County. The Centers for Disease Control director says the delta variant accounts for 83% of all cases in the U.S., a big jump from the 50% two weeks ago.

Both Ascension Via Christi and Wesley Medical Center said that the vast majority of patients being hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Ascension Via Christi added that every single one of their COVID-19 patients currently in their ICU is unvaccinated.

“The vaccine’s job is to make it way less likely for you to get the disease and then if you get it, so it’s not severe,” said Dr. Chloe Steinshouer, ICU medical director for Wesley Medical Center. “And the vaccines are actually really excellent for that still.”

As the delta variant continues to spread, patient numbers at area hospitals are on the rise.

“The more the virus is able to spread, the more opportunity the virus has to change, and that’s why it’s so important for people to get vaccinated,” said Adrienne Byrne, Sedgwick County Health Department director.

Even with vaccinations in Sedgwick County stalling, Byrne says she doesn’t expect the masking guidelines to change anytime soon.

“It’s not that we don’t need masks; it’s that the recommendation has been that anyone who is unvaccinated to wear a mask, but we know that a lot of that isn’t happening,” Bryne said.

For Dr. Steinshouer, her reasoning for the continued use of masks is a personal one.

“I have two children under the age of 12. That’s one of the reasons why I’m still so adamant about wearing masks, especially when we’re in public,” she said.

But it’s also because she has been on the frontlines of this pandemic for 18 months.

“For us in the ICU particularly, it’s really difficult every day to watch people die of something or just suffer miserably from something that reasonably is preventable at this point,” Dr. Steinshouer said.

The climb in delta variant cases is seen in more than just highly populated areas like Sedgwick County.
For the past couple of months, Hays Medical Center has been seeing only one or two COVID-19 hospitalizations at one time. However, in the past couple of weeks, those numbers have jumped up with six hospitalized COVID-19 patients in their current care.

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