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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Doctors from throughout the region Wednesday called for the community to do more to slow what they’re calling the most severe surge in COVID-19 illnesses since the pandemic started.

Doctors say increasing numbers of critically ill COVID-19 patients in hospitals affect access to healthcare for everyone.

Doctors are calling for emergency declarations in both Kansas and Missouri to open the door for federal help, including additional facilities and military staffing to care for a surging number of COVID-19 patients, which doctors say aren’t receiving the proper care they need.

Eighteen chief medical officers and infectious disease doctors from throughout the region say they are fighting to overcome the perception that the omicron variant is no big deal.

These doctors say there has been a fivefold increase in the number of patients dying in the emergency room while awaiting transfer to a hospital with an available bed to treat them.

There’s a three-hour wait at the emergency room at Advent Shawnee Mission medical center.

In Salina, Kansas, the hospital says it had 15 COVID-19 deaths in December. That’s one every other day, with no end in sight.

In the last week, six people have died from COVID-19 at HCA Midwest hospitals. Another eight died at Liberty Hospital, and eight more deaths from COVID-19 were at North Kansas City hospital, just since Jan. 1.

“We’ve got to ask our community to help us mitigate the dire consequences that we are in,” said Dr. Kevin Dishman, chief medical officer at Stormont Vail Health in Topeka, Kansas. 

“Vaccines are safe, they are effective, they are available. We need everyone to get vaccinated. We need everyone to wear a mask,” Dishman said. “We need everyone to social distance, and we need them to do it now! Our community can help us stop this pandemic, but we’ve got to cooperate with everyone in the community. People that have waved the flag of personal choice are extending this pandemic.”

These doctors say they know a mask mandate would help, but say there’s no political willpower to bring back masks.

They’re focusing on state emergency declarations, which would allow hospitals to start caring for more patients than they are licensed to admit and allow the limited staff to perform other roles that may be outside their training or specialties.

A rising number of hospital staff is out sick, reducing the health system’s ability to care for patients, including 740 workers out Wednesday at KU Hospital alone.

There also has been a huge surge in demand for testing.

University Health, formerly known as Truman Medical Centers, says it gets a thousand calls a day for COVID-19 testing.

The hospital performs 450 tests a day, and more than one out of three of those tests come back positive.
The same is true of COVID-19 tests taking place everywhere from Emporia to Manhattan, Kansas.