KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When it comes to COVID-19, there’s guarded optimism in the public health community.
The World Health Organization’s leader is speaking out, saying he believes the worldwide pandemic has a good chance of ending in the coming year. Physicians and public health leaders in the Kansas City metro are hopeful, but uncertain.
Late last week, General Tedros Adanom Ghebreyesus, The WHO’s leader, addressed an audience at the WHO’s final briefing of 2021. He is quoted as saying, “2022 must be the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know the virus very well, and we have all the tools to fight it.”
The WHO leader believes science and medical advances make that possible. Here in the Kansas City region, hospitalizations are up slightly for at least one hospital.
The most recent patient totals from the Kansas City metro’s major hospitals show the University of Kansas Health System with 63 patients as of Monday.
A spokesperson for St. Luke’s Health System said 136 COVID-19 patients are in that hospital system as of Sunday, and, as of Monday, University Health, which was formerly known as Truman Medical Center, has 63 active cases.
“We don’t know. We don’t have a crystal ball,” Dr. Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Kansas Health System, said. “We definitely have the resources to do it. We have the technology and the science to do it, but we need to be able to get the benefits of the science — that is, the vaccinations.”
Hawkinson is optimistic, just as Ghebreyesus is, but he’s among those who believe it’s too soon for victory laps.
On Monday, metro health officials said 51% of people living in the Kansas City area are fully vaccinated, and while the WHO may be correct on a global scale, there’s still work to be done in many communities.
“We know how to make this not a scary thing. We know how to make COVID something we probably could live with, but we’re not taking those steps in this region right now,” Christina Heinen, director of the City of Independence, Missouri Health Department, said.
The Christmas season will likely affect hospitalizations totals in the near future. Doctors saw spikes in infection rates after Thanksgiving in November, and after the 2020 holiday season, too. They’re waiting to see if patient totals will take another leap in the next two weeks, as the virus typically needs two to 14 days to show symptoms in patients.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas Day, doctors advised families to reconsider holding large gatherings, or, at least ensuring all attendees are fully vaccinatde.