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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — An area professor describes Kansas City as “a sitting duck” when it comes to COVID-19 and the omicron variant.

Amber Schmidtke is the chair of the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth. She’s also the author of a blog called The COVID Digest.

Pointing to a map from The New York Times, Schmidtke said the northeast corner of Kansas has some of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases in the country right now. Yet most areas have allowed mask mandates and other safety protocols to expire.

“People seem to either not be aware of the fact that that’s happening or perhaps don’t care. And so it is an issue of we need to make sure that we’re spreading the word that things really are getting intense,” Schmidtke said during a COVID-19 briefing with the University of Kansas Health System.

According to statistics tabulated by the Mid-America Regional Council, there were 15 COVID-19 related deaths reported Dec. 10. The deaths come as statistics show the number of hospitalizations are climbing cases following the Thanksgiving holiday.

“I think we really should be very concerned,” Schmidtke said.

“It’s concerning to see that rising the way that it is. We’re already seeing more cases than we were previously with the delta surge that happened this summer,” Schmidtke said.

She also pointed out that 98% of these new cases are still from the delta variant. Omicron hasn’t been found in the Kansas City metro yet or anywhere in Kansas. Although there’s no proof that it’s here, Schmidtke said there’s no reason to think that it hasn’t already arrived.

Omicron may be more contagious than even the delta variant. While very early information shows that it may not make people as sick, doctors said it’s still to early to really know.

“With South Africa they don’t have a high high vaccination rate. There has been a lot of spread in South Africa. So is this reduced intensity or reduced severity because of previous infection with delta? Is that part of the immune system working?” Dr. Dana Hawkinson, infectious disease expert at the University of Kansas Health System said.

“These are caveats that we just don’t know and understand and so I think it’s really too early to tell about the true severity of omicron.”

Even though other areas of the country are seeing omicron, the Midwest leads the country in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Schmidtke said that is because the HHS shows the Midwest has a 54.6% vaccination rate, while other regions, such as the Northeast, are at 72%.

Locally, hospitals and health experts are concerned with the number of new COVID-19 cases in Kansas City. The metro has seen an 84% case rate increase over the past 14-days, Schmidtke said.

The other issue is that the positivity rate is over 5% for all age ground. The goal is for that rate to be below 5%. Schmidtke said it’s a problem when it climbs higher than that because it means there is a high number of people with COVID-19 who haven’t been tested for the virus. That means they likely don’t know they’re infected and they are spreading it to others.

“On both the Kansas as well as the Missouri side of the river, we are probably undercounting cases by a large margin,” Schmidtke said. “The danger in that is that you can’t see how big the problem is, which makes it harder to control.”

Many health experts and doctors in the Kansas City region are worried that the worst is yet to come with millions of people planning Christmas and New Year’s gatherings.

They said the only real way to protect yourself as much as you possibly can is to be fully vaccinated, get a booster as soon as you’re eligible, and to wear a mask when you’re in crowded areas.