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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — As the Delta variant spreads, Gov. Laura Kelly and Kansas doctors are renewing their pleas for people to get vaccinated.

The Democratic governor visited St. Luke’s Hospital in Overland Park on Friday where she and others said local hospitals are stretched to their limits.

“Our hospitals are being stretched to the max. Our counties are running low on resources to fight the virus,” Kelly said.

Many overwhelmed hospitals are transferring critically ill COVID-19 patients hundreds of miles away for treatment. The issue is that large hospitals in urban areas already were full and struggling with staffing problems when the outbreak started. That means they have no free beds to offer to patients from small rural hospitals without ICUs.

In some cases, the larger hospitals also are looking to transfer out some of their own patients to relieve the strain.

One doctor from St. Luke’s said COVID-based patient loads are as bad as they’ve ever been.

“We feel as if we’re not being heard about how bad things are, and there are still too many people who choose to remain unvaccinated,” said Dr. Andrew Schlachter, a St. Luke’s pulmonologist.

According to the state, hospitals have just 29% of ICU beds that are not full right now.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Kansas has risen over the past two weeks from 605 new cases a day on Aug. 3 to 797 new cases per day on Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

“This is real,” Schlachter said. “COVID is not gone, and in fact, it’s nearly being far worse than it ever was before in our area.”

Doctors stress that the Delta variant is more contagious than the initial strain of the virus. Only 44% of Kansans are fully vaccinated, and the data shows the majority of COVID patients in intensive care haven’t gotten the vaccine.

“COVID vaccines are available. We have a tool, and we’re not using it to the fullest extent,” said Dr. Dena Hubbard, a St. Luke’s pediatrician. “Let me be clear: COVID vaccines are safe. Safe and effective. Many people have said, ‘I’m going to wait and see. I’m going to wait and see.’ There’s no more time. There’s no more time to wait.”

Schlachter said doctors are discouraged, seeing patients die from COVID-19 — most of whom refused the vaccine.

“I’ve listened to goodbyes on the phone, and I’ve seen text messages promising there will not be another person in the family to die from this disease,” he said.

“The idea of more quarantines, more hospitalizations and more deaths is draining and disheartening after all we’ve been through these last 18 months,” Kelly said.

The governor encourages everyone to put aside political differences and base their vaccination choices on what doctors advise.