Data shows some positive signs in COVID-19 battle, but local experts still urge for caution

Tracking Coronavirus

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Even as both Missouri and Kansas report more coronavirus cases, there’s some good news here in the metro.

Some hospitals have fewer COVID-19 patients, and there’s a drop in how many people are testing positive. Data from one group even suggests the Kansas City area may have hit its peak already.

But there’s still cause for caution.

The University of Kansas Health System is seeing positive signs in the fight against COVID-19.

“Cautiously optimistic that maybe our hospitalized numbers are going down, and possibly that’s a reflection of total infections around the city going down,” said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, KU Health System’s infectious disease specialist.

A chart from Mid-America Regional Council includes data from nine counties and Kansas City, Missouri. It shows, so far, the highest rate of new cases happened around April 9, and there’s been a drop off since.

But experts say that doesn’t tell the full story about where we’re headed.

“What we have to do is take it day to day,” said Dr. Steven Stites, a critical care physician with KU Health System. “And the reason no one really knows is we don’t have a good value for how many people have the disease in the community, and the reason we don’t have that is we don’t have testing.”

Testing capacity is improving, but Kansas City, Missouri, alone said it would like to be running 500-600 tests per day and broaden contact tracing.

Kansas is ramping up tracing efforts, recruiting 400 people to help with the task of tracking down anyone who’s been close to COVID-19 patients.

“This is an enormous undertaking,” Stites said.

Another factor is how the community did with social distancing over the Easter holiday. If there’s a consistent slowing of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the next few weeks, that could bode well for lifting restrictions.

“Just because we pass maybe the peak — and we’re not sure about that — but if we are past the peak, it’s still not gone. So we will have more outbreaks,” said Dr. Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department.

“But if we can get in quickly, protect everyone, get them isolated, then stop the spread, we can get back to maybe more normal operations.”

And that’s why re-opening will need extreme caution.

“If we think it’s worth that price to get the economy moving, to get people to work and all that, and we do it too early, there will be more people die. It’s as simple as that,” said Dr. Damien Stevens, a pulmonary critical care physician with KU Health System. 

The decisions moving forward will rely heavily on getting more people tested.

It’s estimated right now we simply don’t know if up to 95% of people in the Kansas City area have had coronavirus or not because of testing shortages.

And widespread testing availability is still about a month away.

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