How BA 5 affects Kansas City COVID cases, hospitalizations

In January, Saint Luke's Hospital of Kansas City and others in the area were full of COVID-19 patients, many filling up ICU units.  The hospitals are starting to see COVID hospitalizations rise again with the surge of the highly contagious BA.5 variant.

In January, Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City and others in the area were full of COVID-19 patients, many filling up ICU units. The hospitals are starting to see COVID hospitalizations rise again with the surge of the highly contagious BA.5 variant.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are on the rise in the Kansas City area, due in part to the highly contagious BA.5 subvariant.

Nationally, the number of daily average coronavirus cases is higher than at the end of last July when the Delta variant began sweeping across the United States, according to case data monitored by New York Times.

“If you compare where we are with [hospitalizations for] the BA.5 variant, we’re getting back to where we were with the delta variant,” said Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at The University of Kansas Health System, in a news briefing on Wednesday, July 20. “And no matter how you look at it, the percent positivity [of COVID-19 tests] is now the third-highest it’s been during the entire pandemic.”

Sites noted that this trend is especially impacting seniors. He recommended distancing from others, gathering outdoors when possible, staying home when sick and wearing a mask. These measures are especially important for those with weakened immune systems.

The BA.5 lineage of the omicron variant has the ability to evade some antibodies caused by vaccination and past infections, so it is reinfecting some people who have had COVID recently. However, the protection provided by currently available vaccines and booster shots is still the best defense against severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19.

What does Kansas City’s COVID-19 data look like this week?

Officials reported a total of 3,095 new cases in the Kansas City area since last week. That’s lower than last week’s total of 3,902 new cases. However, this case count only includes data from Johnson County through Tuesday morning, due to a recent change in the way the county reports COVID-19 information. That means the county only contributed about half a week’s case data to this full week’s total.

Since many people are taking COVID tests at home, which aren’t publicly recorded, experts say real case totals are likely anywhere from two to five times higher than what data shows.

The state of Missouri is no longer reporting death counts at the county level. Johnson County and Wyandotte County did not report any new deaths since last week. That keeps the Kansas City metro area’s death total at at least 4,339 since the pandemic began.

How are hospitals holding up?

The University of Kansas Health System is treating 29 patients with active COVID-19 infections, up from 23 at this time last week. Eight of these patients are in the ICU, and four of them are on ventilators.

“Eight are now in the ICU– I don’t like that number,” said Stites. “That’s something we’ll really have to keep an eye on…. BA.5 is out there, and it’s not to be trifled with.”

Hospital officials do not yet know whether a new variant of concern, omicron BA.2.75, is present yet in the Kansas City area. For now, the highly contagious BA.5 strain remains dominant in the metro. While vaccines formulated to fight the omicron variant and its subvariants are coming, the currently available vaccines remain the best protection against getting sick from COVID-19.

What are the COVID-19 risk levels in the Kansas City area?

Jackson, Wyandotte and Johnson counties remain at “high” community levels of COVID-19 since last week. That means the CDC recommends wearing a mask indoors regardless of your vaccination status, maintaining good ventilation and getting up to date on your vaccines and boosters.

Clay and Platte counties are still at a “medium” community level, which carries similar recommendations. However, masks are not encouraged indoors at this level unless you are immunocompromised or indoors with someone who is.

All five counties that make up the Kansas City metro area remain at “high” transmission levels, along with most of the other counties in the nation. That means your risk of catching COVID-19 in public is elevated. CDC data shows that over 93% of US counties are experiencing this elevated risk.

How vaccinated is the Kansas City area?

Vaccination rates in the area are rising slowly, with 62.95% of the population fully vaccinated in the Kansas City region. Eastern Kansas has a higher vaccination rate, at 71.43%, than western Missouri does at 56.63%.

Getting vaccinated and obtaining a booster shot is still the most effective way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Both mRNA booster shots (Pfizer and Moderna) are safe and effective at reducing the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death.

Do you have more questions about staying safe from COVID-19 in Kansas City? Ask our Service Journalism team at

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Natalie Wallington is a reporter on the Star’s service desk covering government programs, community resources, COVID-19 data and environmental action among other topics. Her journalism work has previously appeared in the Washington Post, Audubon Magazine, Popular Science, VICE News, and elsewhere.


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