Increases in hospitalization in some corners of the state should be a "wake-up call" to residents, Lee Norman, secretary of health and environment, said Wednesday.


Hospitals in the southeast corner of the state have begun to raise the alarm that they are running into issues of capacity, although state health officials underscore there are no statewide issues of the sort.


Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg announced this week it is halting elective and non-emergent procedures due to capacity issues related to an uptick in COVID-19 cases.


ICU, ventilator and bed capacity remains strong statewide. A third of all ICU beds across Kansas remain open, according to data reported by KDHE Wednesday.


Still, Norman said, the trends flagged the need for more vigilance from residents.


He praised actions in Reno County to tamp down on mass gatherings, with the county restricting events where 100 or more individuals congregate as the greater Hutchinson area continues to see an increase in cases.


"We have to do whatever we can to push it down," Norman said of the virus response at a statehouse news conference.


The biggest challenge, he noted, would not necessarily be physical resources, like bed space and ventilators, but rather ensuring hospitals have enough staff.


"There is only so many [medical professionals] to go around," Norman said. "I think we might get pinched. Which is an excellent reason, I think, to bolster up and strengthen the anti-contagion practices in every county, state city and town."


The state reported 1,293 cases of COVID-19 since Monday, as well as an increase of 67 deaths. 60 of those, however, are older fatalities that are only now being reported after records have been confirmed, KDHE said.


Norman defended the state’s statistics after some criticism from conservative groups that the PCR testing used by some labs were too sensitive, claiming that this led to false positives.


But the sensitivity, or cycle threshold, was set in accordance with both manufacturer and Food and Drug Administration guidelines for the tests, Norman said.


There was no credence, he said, to the notion that KDHE was cooking the books to increase the number of positive cases out of political expediency


"We’re not manipulating," Norman said.


Norman said there was mounting evidence that the individuals could be re-infected with different strains of the virus. A woman in the Netherlands was confirmed this week as the first patient to die after being re-infected with COVID-19, although she had multiple co-morbidities that increased her risk.


No such cases of re-infection have been reported in Kansas.


Still, Norman noted, it runs counter to the commonly held belief that those who are infected are cleared from getting it again.


"We’re now getting more evidence that people can get it a second time," Norman said. "We don’t know for sure if immunity to the first time you had it, if its a slightly different virus, will provide immunity to the next time you’re exposed to it. Which means, a person that had it before, can they act like ... they won’t get it again? We don’t know the answer to that."


But Norman acknowledged the political nature that the virus response has taken on, although he said it was not clear that the action of local and state lawmakers was tied to the upcoming Nov. 3 election.


"It has been tied to political ideology, I do know that," Norman said of the pandemic response.