Alex Smith | KBIA

Alex Smith

Alex Smith began working in radio as an intern at the National Association of Farm Broadcasters. A few years and a couple of radio jobs later, he became the assistant producer of KCUR's magazine show, KC Currents. In January 2014 he became KCUR's health reporter.

 

Registered nurse Pascaline Muhindura has spent the last eight months treating COVID-19 patients at Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

But when she returns home to her small town of Spring Hill, Kansas, she's often stunned by what she sees, like on a recent stop for carryout.

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Copyright 2020 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

During the past several weeks, hospitals and government leaders have been working to figure out how they can stretch their limited numbers of beds and ventilators to prepare for a surge in COVID-19 cases that could potentially overwhelm the healthcare system.

In Missouri, however, dozens of hospitals have not been reporting the numbers of COVID-19 patients they are treating or the availability of resources like beds. That's making it harder for health experts and leaders throughout the metro — even across the state line in Kansas.

After weeks of anxiety and terrifying headlines about COVID-19, newly updated projections seem to offer signs of hope.

A tool created by researchers at the University of Washington shows that the short-term impact of the disease may be less than that of the seasonal flu. However, experts warn about reading too much into the projections.

During the last two weeks, Johnson County, Kansas, has limited COVID-19 testing to a sliver of patients and at-risk people. That’s left health experts without much solid information about how the disease is spreading.

Now, the county has the money and a plan for advanced community testing and tracking which would include seemingly healthy people, like countries such as Iceland have done. But there’s one thing holding it back: lack of swabs.

Normally by April, most seasonal colds and flu have run their course, and allergies take over as the main culprit for causing coughs and sore throats.

COVID-19 might ease up slightly along with rising temperatures in the Kansas City area, but experts don’t think the disease will turn out to be just a seasonal problem.

“I think there may well be a seasonal component to it, but it’s also true that it’s not going to go away, in the sense that there won’t be cases running around,” says Gregory Glass, a researcher at the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute.

In the past several weeks, as metro Kansas City began working to avoid being overwhelmed by Covid-19 like big cities elsewhere, rural places like Wright County in southern Missouri have been barely touched by the disease.

But Wright County family physician Dr. David Barbe, along with other health care providers who work in remote parts of the state, have been pleading with Gov. Mike Parson to force their patients and neighbors to shelter in place.

After initially lagging behind many other parts of the country, the COVID-19 case numbers in Kansas and Missouri are now rising rapidly each day.

While this undoubtedly means more people are getting sick, it’s unclear exactly what the infection trends are in both states. That's due to inconsistent testing and lack of complete numbers.

The two states' total cases, as reported on Friday:

As COVID-19 begins to spread in the Kansas City area, health care workers and hospitals say they are struggling with a lack of resources as they try to prepare for a potentially huge demand for care.

Citing concerns about shortage of both medical equipment and staff, the Missouri State Medical Association this week sent a letter to Gov. Mike Parson urging him to issue a statewide “shelter-in-place” order.

Johnson County health officials scaled back testing for coronavirus this week after determining that the county has community transmission.

Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, says the state needs to prioritize testing in other places due to limited test supplies. But some public experts say the move will limit efforts to combat COVID-19.

Normally, most people wouldn’t give much thought to a minor cough or slight fever in March. But March 2020 hasn’t been like other years.

In the midst of a global pandemic, signs of illness can seem alarming, but Dr. Dana Hawkinson, infectious disease specialist at the University of Kansas Health Systems, says a little knowledge and common sense can help, whatever the illness might turn out to be.

If a cough or fever have you worried, here’s what you need to know.

Seven people in Kansas and Missouri have tested positive for coronavirus as of Thursday, with one of those — a man in his 70s living in a long-term care facility in Wyandotte County — dead from the disease. 

The relatively low instances of infection in the region would indicate that so far, the two states seem hardly touched by the growing global pandemic.

Update: 7:30 p.m.

A 70-year-old man who lived in a long-term care facility in Wyandotte County is the first known death from the new coronavirus in Kansas, state officials said Thursday night.

Kansas also has declared a state of emergency, which gives the government more power to marshal resources and triggers the state's response plan.

UMKC joined several other of the Kansas City's region's universities Thursday in announcing students would move to online-only coursework in order to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. 

Though no cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, have been confirmed in Kansas City, Missouri, UMKC officials said in a statement "we are doing our part to limit exposure to our campus family and to limit the spread of the disease."

As the United States struggled with a crisis of addiction to opioids and other drugs over the past few years, scientists began to learn how addiction and loneliness can feed one another.

That was true for the Kansas City women in recovery whose stories support researchers’ findings about how loneliness and addiction work together to create a downward spiral.

“It isolated me from my family,” Monica says of her addiction. “They did not want to be bothered with me because of my behaviors. It caused me to lose good friends.”

As the community spread of the coronavirus appears to be accelerating in Seattle and other parts of the United States, Kansas City civic leaders and health experts insist the area is prepared for the problem.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and health department head Rex Archer met with police and fire departments and local health providers on Tuesday to coordinate their efforts and encourage local residents to take steps as well.

The possibility of the new coronavirus spreading in the U.S. has alarmed many people, but Kansas City-area health officials say they are prepared — to a point.

Taxpayers in Kansas City, Missouri, have a chance between now and March 3 to influence how the city spends their money.

Mayor Quinton Lucas released his proposed budget last week. The budget prioritizes fighting violent crime, increasing the city’s stock of affordable housing and fixing potholes, but it falls roughly $3 million short of another of the mayor's priorities: eliminating bus fares.

As city and state governments across the country legalize marijuana, Kansas City’s mayor wants to make it easier to clean the slate for people convicted of some cannabis-related offenses.

Mayor Quinton Lucas introduced an online system Tuesday afternoon that lets people convicted on municipal marijuana possession charges in Kansas City ask for pardons — free of charge.

“What I want to be able to do for these folks is to say, ‘You might’ve made a mistake at some point, but that we’re going to be fair in how we apply the law in Kansas City and in Missouri,’” Lucas said.

The Kansas City metro area, and a couple of cities just outside of it, will soon have 45 medical marijuana dispensaries. 

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services issued dispensary licenses Thursday, marking a major milepost since voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that legalized medical marijuana. 

The KCUR news staff presents the State of Kansas City series as a look ahead to 2020 on topics of importance to the region. Find the State of Kansas City report on other topics in the series as they are published each weekday, Jan. 6–Jan. 20. Follow coverage on these topics at KCUR.org and on 89.3 FM throughout the year.

Health care — who gets it, who doesn’t, and how we pay for it — will command as much attention in Missouri and Kansas politics this year as on the national scene.

How To Be Less Lonely

Dec 23, 2019

A nationwide campaign is looking for solutions to loneliness.

Some common heart procedures may be more common than they should be, a large-scale study led in part by a Kansas City doctor suggests.

The study, which involved nearly 5,200 patients in 37 countries, found that, in some situations, heart disease patients who received invasive treatment such as stents fared no better than those who got less invasive treatment.

Starting treatment with a mental health specialist often requires a wait of several weeks, but many psychiatrists and other specialists in Kansas City have waiting lists stretching over months.

While the need for mental health treatment has been growing in Missouri, many patient advocates say the state’s refusal to aggressively enforce mental health parity may be making the wait times even longer.

Marty Sexton, a 50-year-old disabled grandfather who lives in Peculiar, worked as a firefighter and then an army medic in Operations Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Enduring Freedom.

When children are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, stimulant medications like Ritalin are usually the first line of treatment.

Doctors recently issued new guidelines that mostly uphold the role of those medications, but many experts argue that other effective behavioral treatment methods are being ignored.

When children are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, stimulant medications like Ritalin or Adderall are usually the first line of treatment.

Lori Pinkley, a 50-year-old from Kansas City, Mo., has struggled with puzzling chronic pain since she was 15.

She's had endless disappointing visits with doctors. Some said they couldn't help her. Others diagnosed her with everything from fibromyalgia to lipedema to the rare Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

It took years for advocates to get medical marijuana legalized in Missouri, but when it’s finally available in 2020, they may face an even tougher challenge: paying for it.

Ashley Markum of Rogersville, Missouri, the mother of a young son who takes CBD to control seizures, was heavily involved in the legalization push. This year, she helped start a charity called Ayden’s Alliance to help families like hers take on what’s likely to be the high costs of treatment. 

This year’s catastrophic flooding has created hard times for many people in Midwest, but it’s created a nirvana for mosquitoes.

Kansas City and the surrounding region could potentially become a hotbed for mosquito-borne viruses like West Nile virus in the coming years due to increasing temperatures and more frequent flooding, which are predicted by climate experts.

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