KU Health: Progress, but a Long Road Ahead


By Dennis Boone



On the first full day of the regional stay-at-home directive to combat spread of the COVID-19 virus, officials from the University of Kansas Health System offered a good news/bad news update on changing conditions at the largest health-care provider in the Kansas City area:
 
 The good news is that Kansas City, as a region, is faring substantially better than some areas fo the country where the outbreak has severely strained medical resources.
 
 The bad? We’re likely still weeks away from understanding just how challenging the environment will be as new cases continue to be confirmed.
 
The health system has already taken a dramatic step to delay elective procedures at its area facilities to focus on preparations for the COVID-19 wave being anticipated. But  the biggest strain on the system now is not availability of beds to treat patients; it’s safeguarding supplies of the personal-protective equipment that health-care professionals must consume to treat cases that might prove to test negative for the virus.
 
In a media teleconference this morning, physicians Steven Stites, Dana Hawkinson and Gregory  Nawalanic, provided an update on the health system’s testing capacity, again reinforced the elements needed to help contain spread of the virus, and offered some guidance on how to address the psychological strain felt by working at home, restricted in their movement or suddenly unemployed.
 
Hawkinson, an infectious-disease specialist, compared the region’s containment efforts to a football game, suggesting that, if we were the Chiefs, we’ve taken the opening kickoff and secured a first down. “But we’re still in the first quarter, and there’s a long way to go,” he said.
 
Nawalanic said it’s important for people who feel confined at home to get out of the house periodically—still maintaining safe distancing and hygienic protocols—to help their prepare their bodies for meaningful rest at night.
The bigger issue for all health-care providers in the region, they said, is the unknown factor for the coming weeks.
 
“We are seeing increased numbers of cases, and they are not overwhelming now,” Hawkinson said. “I think we’re two to three weeks away from accelerating, and it may be two, four to six weeks to see what that’s done to flatten the curve” on demand for hospital beds. “If people get sick now, it will be seven to 14 before we know how many need critical care. It’s not a short-term game.”
 
Nawalanic, addressing the psychological piece, recommended that people at home not become absorbed by every televised news report, and especially not before bedtime, which could disrupt sleep patterns. Children, as well, should be off of their screens—phones, iPads, computers and TV—before bed, and everyone should get some physical activity, he said “As long as everybody is doing everything they can, it’s an opportunity to exercise some control over an otherwise unknown situation.”