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Sedgwick County Commission Gets Medical Advice As COVID-19 Cases Rise

A computer rendering of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Radoslav Zilinsky
Getty Images
A computer rendering of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Sedgwick County commissioners discussed the high transmission rate of COVID-19 in the county.

The Kansas COVID Workgroup for Kids recommended universal masking in schools to the Sedgwick County Commission on Tuesday.

The recommendation was one of several comments from medical professionals regarding the high transmission rate of COVID-19 in Sedgwick County.

So far, the commission has taken no action toward issuing a mask mandate for Sedgwick County.

Stephanie Kuhlmann is a facilitator for the workgroup and a pediatrician in Wichita. She said many school-aged children can’t be vaccinated yet, and those who can make up the age groups with the lowest percentage of vaccination.

“I'm also the hospitalist and medical director at Wesley Pediatrics at Wesley Children's Hospital, and we're unseasonably full this summer with RSV, which is typically a winter virus,” Kuhlmann said of the contagious respiratory virus.

“But due to the risk mitigation procedures and processes … we didn’t really have an RSV season this year.”

Kuhlmann said RSV and other viral illnesses have increased ever since the CDC lifted masking guidelines in May for people who were fully vaccinated. States like Arkansas and Florida are seeing record-breaking numbers of children hospitalized with COVID-19.

Dr. Sam Antonios with Ascension Via Christi said he is seeing a similar trend in Wichita, and the delta variant is likely the cause. He also said the median age group of COVID-19 hospitalizations at Ascension is getting younger because of lower rates of vaccination among younger groups.

“Over the last several weeks, we're seeing deaths among the unvaccinated,” Antonios said. “And that is a disheartening thing to see for anyone, obviously, but then also for our staff and for everyone because we know that a lot of those are preventable with vaccinations.”

Dr. Garold Minns agreed that vaccination is the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19. He’s the county health officer and dean of the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita.

“But for that unvaccinated group, we don't have the vaccine because they don't want it,” Minns said. “So we have to resort back to our other measures, which we've talked about repeatedly here: masking, social distancing, washing your hands.”

Commissioner Jim Howell asked during the meeting whether requiring masks for the fully vaccinated, as the CDC has now recommended in some cases, will take away the natural incentives for being vaccinated in the first place.

Minns said that while safety protocols like masks are not the most desirable solution, it might be the only one as the delta variant surges among the unvaccinated.

“There's no way of knowing who’s vaccinated and who's not,” Minns said. “So out in the general population, half the people are walking around, potentially transmitting.

“When it comes to the masks, I don't know how else to do it. Do you?”

Katelynn McIlwain is a senior at the University of Missouri majoring in journalism (with a magazine writing emphasis) and minoring in digital storytelling. When she’s on campus, she works as an intern at the MU News Bureau and as a resident advisor for MU Residential Life. She is also a member of the Alpha Omega campus ministry.