KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) – Just two days before the biggest Chiefs game of the season, the Jackson County Health Department issued a letter to the community about COVID putting hospitals in crisis mode.

“The situation we are in is dire. Our COVID-19 weekly case rate has reached the highest it’s ever been (1203 cases per 100k people) — and is still rapidly rising. That’s more than double the record high from before this surge,” the letter begins.

Jackson County Health Graph

Source: Jackson County Health Department

Local medical and science experts know that people are tired of hearing about COVID but say it’s too dire to let go. They continue the drumbeat about vaccination keeping people out of the hospital and note that even those who’ve done everything right need to keep it up. It’s not just about protecting the unvaccinated. It’s about taking the strain off the health care system for those working in it and those needing care for something else.

“We can say that COVID doesn’t affect us, but that’s about as effective as shouting at a category 5 hurricane. This thing is on us. We have to take action,” said Dr. Amber Schmidtke, Ph.D., a scientist at University of St. Mary.

At Union Station, members of the Chiefs Kingdom posed in front of a lighted display to announce the status of their home team, heading to the playoffs.

“I just know that Patrick Mahomes is going to be on fire, and everyone is going to be running and catching passes,” said Heather Coday of Kansas City.

Many said they’d be watching the game at home with just their nuclear family or a small group of extended family.

Some said that’s always how they do it.

“I’m usually screaming at the TV and my kids get tired of it,” said one woman, who brushed off any COVID concerns, citing vaccinated status for her and her kids.

“I like to be home with my chili and stuck up on the couch,” said Coday, who didn’t have to change her routine but hoped those who do usually have big parties would re-think it.

Nermin Mustafic is one of those people.

“We’re just not big crowd people at the moment. Trying to stay away,” he said.

Then there are those who just don’t want the hassle of all the hubbub.

“We do sometimes have some parties and stuff, but we decided this playoffs to actually enjoy the game and not have to try to host,” said Jon Ashley of Raytown.

Whatever the reason, keeping it small would keep health experts happy.

“Right now, it is extremely dangerous to have either public or private gatherings,” said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, MD, medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Kansas Health System.

“What we do now is going to impact our ability to care for patients 3-4 weeks from now,” said Dr. Tim Williamson, MD, a pulmonologist and critical care specialist at the health system.

Schmidtke referred people to an interactive event risk assessment tool created by faculty and researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Duke University and Stanford University.

“In the Kansas City metro, if you have a gathering of 25 people, there is a 90 percent or higher chance that at least one of those people is positive,” Schmidtke said.

John Watt will be at the game and isn’t the least bit worried.

“I’ve been to most of the games this year and everybody’s been fine,” he said.

But this game is amidst a surge that’s a bigger foe than the Steelers. The experts acknowledged that outdoors is always better, so watching in the stands at Arrowhead isn’t the worst place to be.

“The Chiefs game itself will not usually be an issue,” said Schmidtke. “It’s usually the tangential things that happen where people gather afterwards at the bar. I would encourage people to take advantage of outdoor dining.”

Still, they suggest people who aren’t vaccinated and boosted avoid Arrowhead and those who are wear masks when they can.

“I’ll probably wear a mask,” said Justin Sims, who has seats on the 2-yeard line. “It’s [going to be] cold. It’s going to feel good to wear one anyway.”

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