Taking the initiative to get more Kansas residents to wear masks, Gov. Laura Kelly said Wednesday she would meet with local leaders to try to get them to implement local mask orders.
Kansas COVID-19 deaths reached over 1,000 on Wednesday, with cases rising in the state and in the Midwest. The governor said case rates and hospitalizations are spiking in counties that opted out of a July mask requirement.
Gov. Kelly, in a news conference Wednesday, said she had met Tuesday with a bipartisan group of legislators to request a special session on a statewide mask requirement. Republican legislators asked her to meet with county leaders to encourage local mask orders before taking statewide action, and she said she and the legislators will meet with local leaders.
The Republican leaders earlier in the year had challenged the governor’s mandatory mask order, and changed it to allow individual counties to opt out, which most counties did.
Some of the larger populated areas, such as Wyandotte County, kept the mask mandate.
The governor said Wednesday they need to move as quickly as possible on mask mandates.
“We can’t afford to wait another moment to begin this process,” Gov. Kelly said.
If they aren’t able to convince communities to voluntarily pass their own mask mandates, the governor said she would move quickly to find another way to implement a statewide requirement.
On Wednesday Kansas reported 82,045 total cases with 1,007 deaths, she said. There were an additional 3,369 cases and an additional 31 deaths in Kansas since Monday, according to the KDHE. The governor has ordered flags to fly at half-staff in honor of those Kansans who have died from COVID-19.
Gov. Kelly said the state’s seven-day rolling average test positivity rate was 10.54 percent last week, just above the 10 percent threshold recommended to open schools and businesses.
Kansas broke the state’s record for the highest number of new cases of any reporting period at nearly 2,500 on Monday, and broke the record again on Wednesday at more than 3,300, she said.
The governor said she was concerned about hospitals, particularly in the rural area, that are seeing rising numbers of COVID-19 patients, putting a strain on bed capacity and staff.
“There is still time to turn our virus response around,” Gov. Kelly said.
Mitigation efforts such as mask-wearing work, Gov. Kelly said. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Kansas has found that counties with mask mandates have effectively stopped virus transmission from increasing, she said, while counties without mask mandates have seen infection rates climb.
Another report, from the University of Washington, found that adherence to mask orders could save 130,000 American lives by the end of February, Gov. Kelly said, and if not, the U.S. death toll could reach 500,000.
Until a vaccine is available and widely deployed, wearing a mask is one of the most important strategies to keep Kansas school and businesses open, she said.
The governor also discussed increasing testing capacity, identifying those who have been in close contact and communicating the importance of quarantining to keep communities safe.
A new unified testing strategy has been developed, she said, that will expand testing to include regular screening for the virus before it spreads, she said. Efforts will be coordinated across Kansas
Gov. Kelly said there would be more routine testing in schools and nursing homes to stop community spread before it starts. The state will go from the current 600,000 COVID-19 tests to more than 1 million by the end of 2020, she said.
Not just diagnostic, but also screening and surveillance testing will be added, she said.
She said KDHE will work with the private sector 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.
It will be important for high-risk populations and also for businesses that are worried about keeping their workforces safe and their doors open, she said.
The state would continue investigating outbreaks in populations at the highest risk, and also would be regularly screening these populations for the virus, isolating those who test positive, she said.
For medium-risk populations, health officials would investigate outbreaks, and also use surveillance testing, which uses methods such as testing wastewater for signs of COVID-19, she said..
Kansas also now is part of a collaborative effort funded by the National Institutes of Health to improve COVID-19 testing for underserved and vulnerable populations, she said.
The University of Kansas Medical Center is one of 32 institutions across the United States that will focus on increased testing in populations disproportionately affected by the pandemic, she said. A university research team will work with 10 counties to build a learning collaborative to help the most vulnerable populations.
“We need comprehensive, accurate data that health officials can analyze to determine our most vulnerable populations or locations so that the state can respond accordingly,” Gov. Kelly said.
She also said they need access to labs with sufficient testing capacity, and reliable transportation for moving samples from health facilities to labs.
Gov. Kelly said health experts have learned a lot over the past several months, and a unified testing strategy can provide businesses with the certainty they can continue operating this winter and beyond.
The testing strategy, along with wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding mass gatherings, can contain the virus until a vaccine is developed to allow residents to resume their normal lives, she said.
Wyandotte County reported 34 additional COVID-19 cases on Wednesday afternoon, for a cumulative total of 8,167, according to the Unified Government COVID-19 webpage. There was one additional COVID-19 death, for a cumulative total of 165, according to the webpage.
KU Health System reported 36 active COVID-19 patients on Wednesday morning, the same number as Tuesday, according to Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control. There were 16 patients in the intensive care unit, an increase from 14 on Tuesday, with four patients on ventilators, four less than on Tuesday. An additional 35 COVID-19 patients were in the hospital in the recovery phase, reduced from 41 on Tuesday. HaysMed in Hays, Kansas, reported 18 total COVID-19 inpatients on Wednesday, down from 20 on Tuesday, with three patients in the recovery phase.
KU campus has low COVID-19 rates
At the KU Health System news conference, Dr. David Wild, vice president of performance improvement, said the Midwest continued to have high rates for COVID-19 spread, with Kansas and Missouri behind North Dakota and Nebraska, and Utah joining the list of states with increases.
Dr. Wild said the number of COVID-19 cases among young adults in Johnson County is almost double the rest of the population.
The University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, and Douglas County, have succeeded in holding down COVID-19 case numbers, in comparison, according to Dr. Wild.
KU Chancellor Doug Girod said the KU campus has had very good compliance with mask wearing and other measures that have helped KU case numbers to fall, while the rest of the state’s cases have increased. Some of the coursework was remote, while other classes were in person. After a few problems early in the semester in mask compliance with Greek members who lived off campus, the community has been compliant with the mask and health requirements.
University officials currently are discussing plans that would allow fans into Allen Field House to watch KU basketball, he said. There is a good level of ventilation there and substantial airflow.
According to Chris Wilson, vice president of system integration and innovation at the health system, KU now is making plans for handling the holiday break. Students will go from a community on campus that has very low rates, and in some cases will be in a home community with higher rates. Currently the Lawrence campus has only about two or three cases a day, he said. To start the spring semester, they are planning for mass testing, according to Wilson.
Cooperative efforts among the university, the county health department, students, faculty, staff, the local hospital and KU Health System were all important in achieving the low rate on campus, according to the doctors.
Free COVID-19 testing available Thursday
A free COVID-19 pop-up test will continue from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29, at Vibrant Health Argentine location, 1428 S. 32nd St., Kansas City, Kansas.
The pop-up test is through Vibrant Health and the Wyandotte County Health Equity Task Force.
The Unified Government Health Department has moved its COVID-19 testing from the 6th and Ann location to the former Kmart at 78th and State Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas. The hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Tests are free for those who live or work in Wyandotte County.
The tests now are open to asymptomatic people as well as those who have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19. Check with the UG Health Department’s Facebook page to see if there have been any changes in the schedule because of the weather or for other reasons. Bring something that shows that you live or work in Wyandotte County, such as a utility bill.
For more information about the new testing site at the former Kmart location, visit https://alpha.wycokck.org/files/assets/public/health/documents/covid/10092020_newtestingsitewyco.pdf.
Gov. Kelly’s news conference is at https://www.facebook.com/GovLauraKelly/videos/982826705547591.
The KU doctors’ news conference is at https://www.facebook.com/kuhospital/videos/692462331381055.
The UG COVID-19 webpage is at https://alpha.wycokck.org/Coronavirus-COVID-19-Information.
The KDHE’s COVID-19 webpage is at https://www.coronavirus.kdheks.gov/.
The Unified Government COVID-19 hub outbreak map is at https://wyandotte-county-covid-19-hub-unifiedgov.hub.arcgis.com/.
To see an NEA list of schools that have had COVID-19 cases, visit https://app.smartsheet.com/b/publish?EQBCT=aa3f2ede7cb2415db943fdaf45866d2f.
The KC Region COVID-19 Hub dashboard is at https://marc2.org/covidhub/.
The CDC’s COVID-19 webpage is at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.