TOPEKA — Kansas on Wednesday reported its largest seven-day increases in both COVID-19-related deaths and new coronavirus cases.
The state Department of Health and Environment said Kansas had another 67 deaths since only Monday, an increase of 8.7%, to bring the total for the pandemic to 838. The state has reported 115 additional deaths over the past seven days, for an average of 16 a day.
Dr. Lee Norman, the state health department’s top administrator, said 60 of the new deaths were reported as it reviewed death certificates from previous weeks and added ones it had previously missed to its count. Deaths as of Wednesday represented 1.2% of reported cases, slightly higher than during the previous month.
The state also said it had 1,293 new confirmed or probable cases over two days, a 1.9% increase that brought the total for the pandemic to 69,155.
The state averaged 743 new cases a day for the seven days ending Wednesday, surpassing the record of 736 set for the seven days ending Monday. Since October began, the health department has updated its coronavirus figures six times, and for five of its reports, the state has averaged 600 or more new cases a day over a seven-day period.
"The numbers are getting worse," Norman said during a Statehouse news conference.
State health officials worry that hospitals will come under increasing stress from the pandemic as it continues alongside the state’s normal flu season. Norman said the state hasn’t seen much flu yet.
While the state’s five most populous counties accounted for about 43% of the state’s 9,400 new cases over the past two weeks, dozens rural counties among the remaining 100 have seen proportionally larger spikes.
Norman said he believes some Kansas residents don’t understand that they can get infected through family members and are still attending funerals and weddings despite warnings against public gatherings.
Dr. Beth Oller, a family physician in northwest Kansas, said the virus has been spreading there because of events like weddings, baby showers and birthday parties. Of the 130 cases in the county of 5,000 during the pandemic, 100 have been reported since Sept. 1.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly imposed a statewide stay-at-home order this spring that remained in effect for five weeks. Oller said for rural areas, it was like "going into the cellar for the tornado that never came." "Even though those of us in public health were saying, 'It’s coming! It’s coming! We can’t stop being diligent,' you get that pandemic fatigue," she said. "It’s harder to keep that diligence up."
Sedgwick County, home to the state’s largest city of Wichita, said County Commissioner Jim Howell tested positive Wednesday for the coronavirus. The county said he is isolating himself at home and working from there.
In a short statement, Howell said he’d been "slightly symptomatic" when he decided to get tested.