COVID killed 3.5 times as many Kansans in August 2021 than August 2020. Leaders renew calls to get vaccinated.

Jason Tidd
Topeka Capital-Journal
More Kansans diagnosed, hospitalized and died from COVID-19 in August 2021 than August 2020 despite the availability of the FDA-approved Pfizer vaccine.

The pandemic was worse in Kansas in August than the same month a year ago, killing more people despite the existence of three COVID-19 vaccines that experts say are safe and effective.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment data shows about 3.5 times as many COVID-19 deaths reported in August 2021 than August 2020. Meanwhile, there were about 2.5 times as many new cases and nearly double the number of hospitalizations. 

The numbers are approximate because the thrice-a-week reports don't align exactly with monthly calendars.

As of Wednesday, KDHE had recorded 372,171 cases, 12,810 hospitalizations and 5,581 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Since Aug. 2, the increases were 37,535 cases, 1,073 hospitalizations and 315 deaths.

In 2020, between July 31 and Aug. 31, KDHE reported 14,800 cases, 553 hospitalizations and 88 deaths.

More:Inside a Stormont Vail ICU floor as cases surge: Patients are younger, 80% unvaccinated

"Please Kansans, hear these doctors, feel for these health care workers who are here today," Gov. Laura Kelly said Wednesday during a media briefing at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita. "Do everything you can to mitigate the spread of the virus and keep people healthy and out of the hospital. Wear your mask, socially distance and — most importantly — get vaccinated.

"COVID-19 rates in Kansas are still at levels higher than we experienced a year ago. ICUs statewide are either at capacity or nearly there. ... It is not too late to turn this around, to reduce infections, to reduce hospitalizations and to reduce deaths."

Public health officials have primarily blamed the the highly contagious delta coronavirus variant, hesitancy and refusal to get vaccinated, and people who ignore precautions in the absence of mandates.

Schools have become central to pandemic response as some of the few establishments that require masks. A growing number are implementing mandates amid spikes in COVID-19 cases and quarantines.

'Children are catching the virus … and dying':Some Kansas schools mandating masks amid 21 COVID outbreaks

More children are getting sick now as schools reopen than last year.

In August 2020, there were 1,282 new cases among children.

In August 2021, there were 9,402 new cases among children.

Brad Nelson, a pediatrician at The University of Kansas Health System, said Wednesday that he is treating children with long-haul symptoms. He worries it may become more common "with the delta variant, especially as we're seeing kids get more severe symptoms with COVID than we had previously."

More:How many kids are vaccinated in Kansas? Here's a county COVID-19 breakdown for eligible children.

Sen. Jerry Moran addresses vaccine and mask mandates

During a Thursday visit to Washburn University, Sen. Jerry Moran said he was pleased by conversations with leaders at K-12 schools and institutions of higher education about how federal COVID-19 aid is being used.

"We also had the conversation about it impossible for the federal government to continue to just provide money to all the places that are damaged by COVID. I'd use this opportunity to encourage students and faculty at Washburn and the people of Kansas to be vaccinated because we don't have the resources just to continue trying to pay for the consequences of our our health risk."

Moran said he is opposed to vaccine mandates.

More:Health department says Shawnee County's COVID-19 score has improved to 14 from 18

"I continue to believe that we are a caring people, that we care for our neighbors, we're a knowledgeable people," he said. "But this still remains, in my view, a decision that's made by individuals across Kansas. And I just would encourage them to think it's not just about themselves."

The Latin motto "non nobis solum" at Washburn University means "not for ourselves alone," which President Jerry Farley said is "what the vaccination is all about."

Moran said school mask requirements should be up to local boards of education. He said masks were "generally worn" at the schools he visited.

"So people were are moving in the right direction and taking this seriously," Moran said. "I think every day in which we learn of some other episodes, someone's death, someone's sickness, somebody we know or somebody that we read about, hear about, it becomes more common that people were taking the necessary steps."

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., speaks with reporters Thursday while visiting Washburn University.

COVID-19 indicators in red zone

White House COVID-19 task force data released at the end of the month show pandemic indicators remain high in Kansas.

The rate of 348 new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days is nearly 3.5 times the federal red zone threshold. Kansas is around the middle of the pack compared to other states.

The death rate and positive test rate are also in the red zone, as is the percentage of staffed ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.

More:Multiple COVID outbreaks cause Kansas school district to close. What happens next?

All but one county had at least one case within the past week, and all but two counties have substantial or high community spread. Greenwood and Montgomery counties have the highest case rates, each with more than 10 times the red zone threshold. Morton and Edwards counties have the highest positive test rates, both of which are at 50%.

A positive test rate of 10% is the federal red zone threshold. The statewide rate is 11.7%.

Vaccination rates remain lower than what public health officials would want.

While 68.1% of eligible residents have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, 48.3% of the entire state population is fully vaccinated, far below the herd immunity estimates.