KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The Big 12 Tournament was one of the first casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic. Three years ago, Thursday’s games were canceled as teams warmed up. Not long after, the entire NCAA Tournament was canceled. 

Now, doctors at the University of Kansas Health System and local health officials said we’re moving out of the pandemic in many ways, but there’s still room to be cautious. 

“Most people have moved out of the pandemic in regard to it affecting their everyday life,” Dr. Dana Hawkinson said. 

This week three years ago, the first patient in the Kansas City metro faced a COVID-19 diagnosis, marking the start of the pandemic in our community. 

KC Sports Commission CEO Kathy Nelson said it was a difficult decision to cancel the Big 12 Tournament.

“Seeing those athletes come off the court with tears dripping off their face because it was going to be their final game,” Nelson said. “And now to see the tears of excitement and the joy and emotion it’s just such, we’re back.”

“It’s great to be able to see that and get back to more of that social interaction that we’re used to,” Hawkinson said.

He said in returning to a pre-pandemic lifestyle, we must also remember the vulnerable population. Some people are still getting sick with COVID-19 and need hospital care. 

“At one point we were down to 1 or 2 patients in the hospital,” Hawkinson said. “Recently we’ve been hanging out in those 20s as far as active infections.”

Hawkinson said the disease spectrum has changed, meaning the vast majority of people coming in with COVID-19 are now high-risk patients. 

“Certainly, age plays a factor in there, but other comorbid conditions like diabetes, obesity, lung disease, heart disease,” he said. “But now we have the tools to help prevent that and help reduce the risk as an individual for that helping, and the best one obviously is vaccinations.”

In Johnson County, where the first COVID-19 patient lived, the current vaccination rate is more than 80%, and a little less than 1 in 4 have received their booster, according to the CDC.

Elizabeth Holzschuh, director of epidemiology with the Johnson County Health Department, said that data may not be completely representative of what’s happening in the community, much like COVID-19 testing data. 

“I believe that we all still need to be cautious at times,” Holzschuh said. “We need to be protecting ourselves and protecting others particularly when we’re sick. And I think that’s just a general attitude that I’d like us all moving forward to.” 

Doctors continue to say masks are good and if you feel uncomfortable in a situation, wear one. If you’re sick, stay home.