TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) — Kansas Governor Laura Kelly says she is concerned about how fast the number of COVID-19 deaths are going up in Kansas.
“To put this in context, the state did not reach 500 COVID deaths until September, roughly six months after the pandemic began. It took a little over six weeks for another 500 Kansans to die,” Kelly said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Kelly is encouraging communities to implement mask requirements.
“We cannot afford to wait another moment to begin this process,” she said. “I have directed my staff to put all of our energy into this strategy. However, if we are unable to convince communities to voluntarily implement a mask mandate, I will move expeditiously to find another way to implement a statewide mask requirement.”
“Last week, our state’s seven day rolling average test positivity rate was 10.54%, which is just above the 10% threshold recommended to open schools and businesses,” Kelly said. “On Monday, for the third week in a row. Kansas broke the record for the highest number of new cases of any reporting period at nearly 2,500, which we broke again today at over 3,300.”
The governor said masks are just one tool against the spread of the coronavirus.
“We must also increase testing capacity, isolate those who test positive, identify those who have been in close contact, and communicate the importance of quarantining to keep our communities safe,” she said.
That’s why she said the state is adopting a new Unified Testing Strategy. So far, health departments have mainly focused on testing those with symptoms or where there are outbreaks.
Kelly said Kansas needs to expand testing in include regular screening before the virus spreads.
She says the Unified Testing Strategy will coordinate public and private testing efforts to allow for broader routine screening in places like schools and nursing homes to stop community spread before it starts.
“With the investment of SPARK funding which was recently competitively bid and will soon be announced, we can nearly double the amount of testing we are doing in Kansas by years end,” Kelly said.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) will work to expand labs and supplies, enhance data and reporting, provide support for isolation and quarantine, and increase public communications about controlling the spread of the virus.
Using the chart shown above, the governor explained the strategy. For populations at the highest risk, located in the green section, state and local public health officials will continue to investigate outbreaks, but also regularly screen for the virus and isolate those who test positive.
For populations at medium risk, in the blue band, health officials will once again continue to investigate outbreaks but also use surveillance testing – which uses methods like testing wastewater for signs of COVID-19.
“Adding the Unified Testing Strategy to our tool box, along with universal mask usage, social distancing, and avoidance of mass gatherings, we can contain this virus and give our scientists time to develop a vaccine that will allow us to resume our normal activities,” Kelly said.