- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 25, 2020

MISSION, Kan. (AP) - Democratic Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly warned residents Wednesday not to let down their guard during Thanksgiving Day celebrations as coronavirus cases soar and hospitals overflow.

The number of confirmed and probable case cases rose by 5,738 from Monday to 147,797, bringing the daily average to 2,743 over the past week. The number of deaths increased by 47 over the past two days to 1,503, according to state health officials.

“I understand how discouraging and frustrating it is to not get together with family members over special holidays like Thanksgiving,” Kelly said. “I know you all want this to be over. We all want to return to some semblance of normal, but we cannot return to any semblance of normal until this virus is under control, until we flatten the curve, until a vaccine is available, widely distributed and vaccination rates are significant. Until then I encourage Kansans to hunker down.”

Her admonition came on the same day that a new mask mandate took effect, although Kansas law still allows the state’s 105 counties to opt out. Most counties did so the first time Kelly tried to require masks in July, but only about 45 have done so this time, according to the Kansas Association of Counties. Kelly said she was “glad of that” because health care workers are “experiencing severe burnout.”

Kansas health chief Dr. Lee Norman warned that hospitals are running out of beds and especially staff.

“Some hospitals have clinics that can shut down to increase capacity, while others have electric surgeries and cancer care that they can defer, at least for a period of time to free up capacity,” he said.

The problem is so severe that doctors and nurses in rural parts of the state have been complaining about spending hours on the phone arranging transfers. Some patients are being flown hundreds of miles because closer hospitals have no capacity.

Norman said that the good news is that a new program called Mission Control, which helps line up beds and transportation, has helped coordinate more than 3,200 patients transfers. He said it is now in use in more than 30 facilities, with additional hospitals being added daily.

“It will allow patients to be transferred to an open ICU bed and relieve some of the strain on the state’s health care system since some areas of the state are already near capacity in their intensive care units,” Norman said.

But he also said the public needs to step up as nurses, doctors and correctional officers grow exhausted.

“We owe them all terrific debt of gratitude and appreciation,” he said. “But more than that we owe them the commitment to live safely and protect our communities from this virus.”

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