Feb. 22—Monday's coronavirus pandemic update for Kansas was the best in more than five months for new cases of COVID-19.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 883 new COVID-19 cases on Monday. That is the first report below 1,000 since Sept. 16 and the fewest since Sept. 9.

Kansas has now had pandemic totals of 291,715 confirmed and probable cases, 9,103 hospitalizations, 2,466 ICU admissions and 4,643 deaths. The weekend increase was 883 new cases, 32 new hospitalizations, nine new ICU admissions and 29 new deaths.

Sedgwick County, according to the KDHE, has had 53,235 cases, 1,371 hospitalizations, 397 ICU admissions and 680 deaths. The weekend increase was 206 new cases, four new hospitalizations, one new ICU admissions and three new deaths.

The Sedgwick County Health Department's weekly hospital update showed the hospital status is "good," which was the same as last week.

The 90 total patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at Wesley Medical Center and Ascension Via Christi St. Francis is a drop of three from last week. The 33 COVID-19 patients in ICUs is up three from last week, corresponding to a drop of three available ICU beds. There are 15 available ICU beds out of the approximately 208 total ICU beds at the hospitals.

Until last week, the Wichita hospitals had spent 15 straight weeks with full ICUs, using contingency operations.

Despite improving coronavirus trends locally, statewide and nationally, the pandemic is not over.

"We're going to pass, I think today, a fairly somber milestone of 500,000 deaths from COVID-19," said Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, during a Monday media briefing hosted by the hospital.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported 497,415 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States as of Monday morning.

"More people have died now from COVID-19 than in World War 1 plus World War 2 plus the Vietnam War," Stites said. "That is a staggering statistic to me. ... Unfortunately, COVID-19 is not over."

There were 53,402 American combat deaths in the first world war, 291,557 in the second and 47,434 in Vietnam, according to statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Congressional Research Service and the National Archives. The combined battle deaths from the three wars total 392,393.

When including other military service deaths during the wars, such as the tens of thousands of World War 1 soldiers who died from the influenza pandemic, the death toll rises to 580,135.

Stites was asked about mental health during the pandemic.

"In one year, we have lost half a million people from one disease," Stites said, pointing out that the war casualties spanned several years. "That is a reason to be depressed."

Masks and vaccines

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN on Sunday it is "possible" that Americans will still need to wear face masks in 2022, depending on coronavirus levels in a community.

"When it goes way down and the overwhelming majority of the people in the population are vaccinated, then I would feel comfortable in saying we need to pull back on the masks," Fauci said.

Stites was asked to respond to Fauci's comment.

"I think if we could get 90% of Americans vaccinated in a short timeframe, then we probably wouldn't have to wear masks into 2022," Stites said. "I think the problem is our vaccine roll-out has been going slower than we hoped."

"If we do get more vaccines, that (timeframe) could change," he said. "It is now said that about a third of Americans have had COVID-19. We've got to get to those two-thirds that have not. And remember ... people who originally had COVID-19 last summer probably by this fall will have lost most of the protection from that and are going to need to be vaccinated."

In Sedgwick County, only about 65% of survey respondents said they planned to get vaccinated when it's their turn. Public health experts estimate 75-80% of a community needs to be vaccinated to reach a level of herd immunity that generally protects people who can't or won't get vaccinated.

As of Monday, Kansas has received 600,700 doses of vaccines, according to the KDHE. There have been 339,190 first shots reported as administered, or about 11.6% of the population. There have been 144,015 second shots reported as administered, or about 4.9% of the population.

Over the weekend, 14,555 new first doses and 12,557 new second doses were reported as administered.

Nationwide data from the CDC on doses administered per capita ranks Kansas among the lowest rates in the country, ahead of just Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Alabama. Kansas officials have said more doses have been administered than reported, and the state is working to resolve data reporting lags.

The KDHE reports there will be 15,530 doses allocated to Sedgwick County this week. That's more than 2.5 times the 5,850 doses allocated to the county last week.

The Sedgwick County Health Department reported administering 1,182 first doses and 1,194 second doses on Friday and Saturday. The health department has now administered 37,865 total doses. That number does not include vaccinations by other providers, such as hospitals, pharmacies and nursing homes.

"Masks do two things: They protect you, and even more importantly, they say I care about everyone else, because they really help everybody," Stites said. "And I think that's the real genesis of why we're having to have masks until we get everybody really well vaccinated."

Renewing driver's licenses during pandemic

State officials are asking Kansans to start renewing their driver's licenses and ID cards online.

Gov. Laura Kelly has previously extended deadlines for renewals due to the pandemic. On Monday, Kansas Department of Revenue officials cautioned against waiting until the last day of the extension period to renew expired credentials.

The department is temporarily waiving service fees for online renewals through www.ikan.ks.gov. The fee waiver is to encourage online renewals, avoid crowded offices and to get renewals completed.

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