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The only way to keep from overwhelming the state’s health care system with coronavirus patients is for people to stay home and keep their distance from others, according to medical experts at the University of Kansas Health System.
"What we’re afraid of in health care is if the rate of the rise of new cases is so great that it could overwhelm the health care delivery system," said Allen Greiner, medical officer for Wyandotte County Unified Government Health Department during a Facebook Live news conference on Monday morning.
Echoing the "flattening the curve" strategy, Greiner said that besides frequent 20-second hand washing and coughing into elbows, the key is social distancing.
"What does that mean?" Greiner said. "It means you’re going to have to stay home."
As of Friday afternoon there were 11 confirmed infections in the state.
People shouldn’t wait for a government imposed lockdown, or rules limiting gatherings to 50, said Steven Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, who was also on the Internet live stream.
"The socially responsible thing is to not go to large gatherings," Stites said. "Some people would say the number is four to six, not 50. The smaller, the safer, and I think we just need to follow that. Don’t wait on the government to tell you to do it."
The exception, South Korea, relied on mass testing to get out ahead of the virus, but that’s not an option in the United States, said Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, who was also on the conference.
"One out of every 280 people in Korea have been tested," Moran said. "But the tests were available, and Korea responded in a way that got people tested quickly. So it’s a role model that we ought to be looking at."
When there isn’t a lot of testing or information available, staying home is the solution, Stites said.
"That can blunt the curve," he said. "South Korea didn’t really restrict movement, because they had a lot of tests. We have to restrict movement, and people have to help us do that."
Moran said the testing situation in Kansas is improving, as more tests are becoming available and done locally for a faster turnaround, instead of sending them to Topeka for results. He said he wants to make sure the tests are available all across Kansas, and learn from others.
"I’m anxious to see what South Korea determined to do early-on that we should replicate," he said.
Speaking mid-morning from a studio in the Kansas City area, the physicians and Moran said the University of Kansas Health Care System and the rest of the state’s hospitals are capable of taking care of patients with the virus.
If flattening the curve isn’t possible, overwhelmed hospitals will need help from others.
"We’re all in this together," Stites said. "Every hospital is capable of taking care of COVID-19 patients. These aren’t patients who need some kind of new, bizarre technology. What they really need is support, and then they need mechanical ventilators to help them breathe. That’s a standard of care that all of us should be able to reach."
The physicians and Moran didn’t provide numbers on how many ventilators and intensive care unit beds there are in the state, or in Ellis County.
"I don’t think I can give you the exact number of beds in the ICU at Hays," said Tammy Peterman, president of the Kansas City division of the University of Kansas Health System.
Peterman said all hospitals have a surge plan, and the staffs are working to ensure adequate resources.
Moran indicated he plans to find out details about availability upon his return to the capital this week.
"One of my missions today is to find out how somebody in Kansas, a hospital, a health care provider, can access ventilators that are stored for times of emergency in Washington D.C." he said. "If they’re needed, we want to make sure they’re available."
The Department of Veterans Affairs has hospitals that can back up the health care system, Moran said.
He’s also become aware of the expense for the health care system, he said.
"There will be economic problems for the health care delivery system in our state," Moran said, "and it’s something I want to pursue when I return to Washington D.C."
Doctors and other health care providers face a learning curve with the virus, sharing information worldwide and locally, Stites said, with 130,000 cases so far worldwide and more than 3,000 in the United States.
"We have learned a lot, but there’s a lot more to learn," he said. "We know that the majority of people who get infected with this virus are going to survive, by far the majority. We also know that over 80% of patients who get this virus are going to be able to stay home and never have to come into the hospital."