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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Medical leaders from nearly all of the Kansas City metro’s health systems are calling for a return to mask wearing as hospitals once again are near capacity.

Doctors say masks will limit the surge in patients that threaten to overwhelm health care providers.

Leaders from nearly a dozen health care institutions called the increase “unsettling” in mostly unvaccinated patients needing hospital care.

They say the infection rate in Kansas City is higher than it’s ever been and hospitals are on the verge of crisis.

Doctors are calling for a return to mask wearing indoors to keep schools in-person and in session and businesses open and operating.

“We know that masking changes the course of the pandemic,” said Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher, an infectious disease specialist at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.  

“I can say whether they are cloth or surgical masks, I can say at least a third of infections can be prevented just by masking. I like to say: Masks work. This is not debatable.”

Doctors say the virus surge is delaying care for patients with cancer, heart conditions or strokes. Physicians say emergency rooms are overwhelmed and suffering.

And the chief medical officers blame low vaccination rates and low use of masks.

“What you’re hearing from chief medical officers today is that we need masking back,” said Dr. Steven Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Hospital.

“We are not policy makers but we are health care professionals and we’re telling you inside our hospitals and health systems we are at a critical juncture. The numbers are rising rapidly and there’s no end in sight unless we put public health measures in place.”

The doctors report that nearly 2,500 people in the metro area have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic started.

As children head back to school, medical professionals agree that without stronger mitigation measures, there won’t be in-person classes for very long.

Hospitals also face staffing shortages as more unvaccinated workers increasingly are catching the Delta variant.

The VA Medical Center and Truman Medical Centers are now leading the way by requiring that all of their employees get vaccinated.

Johnson County Chairman Ed Eilert listened to the briefing and may move the county toward renewing a mask mandate as a result.