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Kansas authorities investigate possible new COVID-19 strain while hospitalizations decline



TOPEKA, Kan. – COVID-19-related hospitalizations continue to decrease in the state, experts say, as the state’s caseload eases after fears of a holiday surge.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported a rise of 3,262 cases since Monday. The agency also noted 96 deaths recorded in that timeframe, though most of those appear to be from earlier in the pandemic.

But there is concern that a coronavirus variant that is more easily transmittable could complicate matters.

KDHE Secretary Lee Norman said Monday that the department is investigating whether another strain of COVID-19 was responsible for an outbreak at Winfield Correctional Facility. The facility had 43 active cases as of Wednesday.

“It was very fast spread, and we’re going to test every one of those positive individuals with genomic sequencing,” Norman said Tuesday.

COVID-19 variants from the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa are believed to spread more rapidly, and the U.K. strain has already been found in numerous other states.

The state saw 151 new hospitalizations in the last two days, although experts say the overall burden on hospitals is down in recent weeks.

Six hundred fifty-nine Kansans in total are in the hospital with COVID-19, according to data from the Kansas Hospital Association, with 175 of those in intensive care. That number was close to 1,000 earlier this month.

Jon Rolph, a Wichita community leader who presents COVID-19 data to top state lawmakers weekly, said that issues were still present for larger facilities in Topeka, Wichita and Kansas City, Kan., but that things had improved by-and-large.

“We continue this week-over-week trend of our numbers getting better in the state of Kansas,” Rolph said.

Only 9% of hospitals said they expected staffing shortages this week, although Rolph noted that number could in reality be slightly higher.

Topeka Correctional Facility remains the largest COVID-19 cluster in the state, with 129 cases linked to the facility.

KDHE reported 160 active clusters linked to long-term care facilities, accounting for 4,910 cases. Corrections facilities are tied to 16 clusters and 3,722 cases.