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The Second 1,000 Coronavirus Deaths in Kansas Came 5 Times Faster than the First 1,000

The number of COVID-19 deaths by day in Kansas. (Graph from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment)

Story by Brian Grimmett

WICHITA, Kansas — The number of Kansans who have died from COVID-19 topped 2,000 on Friday.

How quickly the state passed that milestone — it took the state seven-plus months to lose its first 1,000 people to the coronavirus, and little more than a month to lose 1,000 more — shows how quickly the spread is accelerating.

“There’s just so many more people getting COVID right now that inevitably that’s going to lead to more death,” said Steve Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System.

The number of people who die after contracting the disease has remained relatively stable at about 1.9% in the U.S. and about 1% in Kansas.

But the rapid increase in the number of new deaths mirrors the increases in new cases. In the past two weeks, the state has averaged nearly 2,500 new cases a day.

In Kansas, it took about six months to go from the first death, to 500 deaths. The next 500 took only six weeks. The 500 after that, four weeks. And the most recent 500, to get the state over 2,000, took about two and a half weeks.

● 1 to 500 - 6 months (3/18/20 to 9/11/20)
● 500 to 1,000 - 6 weeks (9/11/20 to 10/28/20)
● 1,000 to 1,500 - 4 weeks (10/28/20 to 11/25/20)
● 1,500 to 2,000 - 2.5 weeks (11/25/20 to 12/11/20)

The rapid rise takes a toll on doctors and nurses in intensive care units who have to watch their patients die, while dealing with grieving family members.

“It has been palpably more difficult over the last month, and even couple of weeks,” said Lewis Satterwhite, a critical care physician at the KU Health System hospital. 

So far, the youngest person to die of COVID in Kansas is 18. But young people dying from the disease remains rare. Of the coronavirus deaths in Kansas, 94.4% have come among people 55 or older. The median age is 80.

Nursing homes remain hot spots. Two-thirds of all facilities in the state have had confirmed cases. And dozens still have to wait up to a week to receive test results from backlogged labs.

Deaths are pretty evenly split between male and female, but have hit Black people particularly hard, with a death rate of 61.47 per 100,000 people.

Physicians fear that the number of daily deaths hasn’t quite peaked yet. Deaths usually lag four to six weeks behind spikes in cases.

Almost every Kansas county has a percent positive testing rate greater than 10%, a sign of uncontrolled, widespread community transmission.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regional administrator Catherine Satterwhite said reducing the spread of the virus is still the best way to reduce the number of deaths.

“It’s really important to know,” she said, “that this is not inevitable.”

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Brian Grimmett reports on the environment, energy and natural resources for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of Kansas Public Radio, KCUR, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio - focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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