Kelly, Norman chart path to recovery from COVID-19; Norman says fall athletics may not start on time

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly speaks at a COVID-19 press conference on Friday, May 15, 2020, at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

If and when colleges are able to resume some sort of normal operations for the fall semester, Kansas’ top health official said Friday it likely wouldn’t be “business as usual.”

Dr. Lee Norman, the secretary for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said that he wouldn’t be surprised if dormitories were converted to single-room only and campus dining options became more spaced out.

But perhaps most notably for the Lawrence area, he said both college and professional sports leagues may have trouble starting up competition on their current schedules.

“I don’t think competitive athletics is going to start on the schedule they want it to,” Norman said.

The comments came as Norman and Gov. Laura Kelly spent most of Friday’s COVID-19 news briefing detailing plans for Kansas’ physical and economic recovery in the weeks and months ahead.

On Thursday, Kelly announced that her administration would slow down the reopening process from the initial timeline detailed at the end of April — as there hadn’t been enough signs of downturn in the spread of the respiratory virus to move forward as planned.

The goal of her plan to gradually reopen the state, Kelly said Friday, was to provide local communities and businesses some ability to plan for the future. But it was always going to be the data, not dates, that gave the signal to move Kansas into the next phase of reopening.

“Moving forward, we hope to adhere to the initial recovery process as much as we can,” she said. “But I’ve always said that until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, manufactured and widely distributed, our future remains subject to the whims of this virus.”

In terms of the data Kansas is using to guide the reopening process, Kelly said Friday that the state relied on local health departments to submit information, which is a complicated process in and of itself.

From there, it takes more time for KDHE to collect and analyze all of the data from various sources, which creates a natural delay before officials can have a clear picture of the state’s progress.

Generally, Kelly said, the data lags about one week behind what’s currently happening. That was a key factor in slowing down the reopening process, in which mass gatherings will be limited to 10 people and barbershops and hair salons can open only on a by-appointment basis.

Before the reopening process began on May 4, Kansas saw a sustained downward trend of new COVID-19 cases by the onset date of symptoms. Kelly said the state also felt confident in its ability to manage the existing outbreaks of the virus as testing capacity continued to increase.

But over the past week, she said, that downward trend started to fluctuate and flatten.

“(That gave) us pause,” Kelly said. “It illustrates that the disease is still spreading in our communities.”

Going forward, Kelly and Norman said they continued to be optimistic about trends on hospitalizations and deaths attributed to the virus. They also are confident that the state’s hospital infrastructure is still well prepared to handle the current rate of COVID-19 cases.

Kansas on Friday confirmed 418 new cases of COVID-19 since KDHE last released data on Wednesday. The state’s cumulative total of confirmed cases now sits at 7,886, and the disease has claimed the lives of at least 172 Kansans — an increase of eight deaths from Wednesday.

There have been 724 hospitalizations since the department began tracking data, an increase of 20 from Wednesday. Of those, at least 443 have been discharged. Over 110 hospitalizations attributed to the virus required the patient to be placed on a ventilator — a percentage of 15.5%.

Norman said Friday that the state was monitoring 94 outbreaks of COVID-19, 39 of which are no longer active.

Those outbreaks have contributed to 3,852 cases and 120 deaths in the state and can be traced to the following locations:

• 40 from private gatherings, 15 of which are closed, resulting in 360 cases and two deaths;

• 24 from long-term care facilities, 10 of which are closed, resulting in 591 cases and 96 deaths;

• Nine from religious gatherings, eight of which are closed, resulting in 117 cases and 11 deaths;

• Nine from meat-packing plants, resulting in 1,791 cases and four deaths;

• Six from group living arrangements, four of which are closed, resulting in 54 cases and two deaths;

• Three from correctional facilities, resulting in 917 cases and five deaths;

• Three from health care facilities, two of which are closed, resulting in 22 cases and zero deaths.

Norman also said that the state on Friday expected to receive its second of four shipments of remdesivir, a drug that has been granted approval for emergency use to treat the most severe COVID-19 patients.

Kansas received an initial shipment of 10 cases, and the second shipment is expected to include 26 cases of the drug. Each case can treat around five patients.

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