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New mask orders in Kansas as Delta variant spreads like ‘wildfire’


TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is backing the CDC’s updated guidance for people who are fully vaccinated.

In a press conference on Wednesday, she announced that anyone entering state buildings would be required to wear a mask starting Monday, as coronavirus cases increase and the Delta variant surges.

“Low vaccine rates have allowed the twice as contagious Delta variant to spread like wildfire,” Gov. Kelly said.

The governor’s advice signals that of earlier pandemic days, where widespread mask mandates were in place.

Under the new guidance, in most cases, each county will decide on the parameters under which safety measures are enforced. However, the governor decided to exercise her jurisdiction over state offices and buildings, falling in line with CDC guidelines.

State health secretary Dr. Lee Norman said that while severe cases seem to be trending downward, hospitalizations are still rising.

“In terms of the percent of the cases that end up having to be hospitalized or die are down 70%, but hospitalizations are up, and hospitals are really getting quite full,” Dr. Norman said.

The new CDC guidance calls for a mask to slow the spread. Not just for those who don’t have their shots but also for those who do. Even fully vaccinated people are now encouraged to wear masks indoors, where cases are on the rise.

Most hotspots have been identified in the eastern half of Kansas. According to state officials, several spots experiencing sustained case rates and +20% growth include Douglas County, Leavenworth County, and Shawnee County.

The state has struggled to significantly boost its vaccination rate, as fewer people opt to get vaccinated.

The Governor’s Vaccine Equity Task Force met Wednesday afternoon, pointing to low numbers for the state’s vaccinated population. So far, state officials said 44.9% of people in the state are fully vaccinated. The concern grows among children ages 12 and older, as the state’s vaccination rate for that group sits at 34%.

Members of the task force are seeking new initiatives and events targeting that specific population to increase vaccinations.

“In terms of having the youth be involved in planning their own events, to have them sort of being the lead on these events, I think that will go a long way towards having other youth feel more comfortable getting the vaccine,” said Stacey Knoell, executive director of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission.

The state’s also been ramping up efforts to get shots into more arms, setting up mobile clinics that offer free vaccines and testing in different parts of the state.

As kids return to school, the state’s mission to bolster their efforts has become more prevalent. Gov. Kelly said her administration also plans to release new guidance for schools in the coming days. In the meantime, she encouraged all people that are eligible to get vaccinated.

“We have a vaccine to protect us from the virus, that is safe, it’s effective, and it’s free,” she said.

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