Kansas to move forward in reopening process earlier than expected; restrictions to loosen slightly Friday

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly speaks at a news conference on Tuesday, May 19, 2020 at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

After seeing improvements in the state’s COVID-19 data, Gov. Laura Kelly announced Tuesday that Kansas will soon move into a new phase of reopening.

Beginning Friday, the state’s limit on mass gatherings will increase to 15 people, and non-tribal casinos, theaters and bowling alleys can open as long as they comply with state health guidelines.

The decision came less than a week after Kelly and her administration were forced to scale back the initial reopening plan she announced in April as the respiratory disease showed signs it was continuing to spread in Kansas.

The new phase, which Kelly called a “slightly modified phase two” became a possibility as the state’s data continued to show downward trends in the metrics officials have identified as crucial to reopening.

That data specifically includes the state’s disease spread, testing, hospitalization and death rates, and the availability of personal protective equipment.

“Right now the data tell us it is time for another step forward in opening,” she said Tuesday at a news conference. “By being proactive and aggressive in our initial response, we’ve managed to stave off some of the worst aspects of this disease that we have seen take hold in other states.”

Not everything initially projected in Kelly’s original phase two of reopening will take effect Friday, however. Bars, nightclubs and swimming pools will remain closed, as will large entertainment venues that hold over 2,000 people, along with fairs, festivals and parades.

The expedited reopening, Kelly cautioned, should not be taken as an indication that Kansas is “anywhere near” a return to a pre-pandemic sense of normalcy.

“I trust that all Kansans will continue to place their own safety, health and well-being, and that of their family, friends, neighbors and coworkers, first and foremost as we continue reopening our state,” she said. “We may be transitioning to phase two, but we still have a long way to go before arriving at anything bordering on normal.”

The most recent data released Monday by the state Department of Health and Environment indicated Kansas’ cumulative COVID-19 case total sits at 8,340. The state, however, only registered 20 new hospitalizations and one death over a two-day period.

Going forward, every Kansan should continue to wear a mask in public, practice sound personal hygiene at all times, and social distance wherever appropriate, Kelly said.

The next stage of reopening, in which the mass gathering limit will be extended to 45 people, is now scheduled to take place no sooner than Monday, June 8, Kelly said. The phasing out of social gathering restrictions in the state is now scheduled to begin on June 22, rather than the 29th as Kelly announced last week.

The governor will not hold a news conference on Wednesday, and instead will travel to Washington, D.C., for a meeting with President Donald Trump. Kelly said she will likely be tested for COVID-19 before entering the White House and will wear a mask at all times.

It is still unclear if the public will be able to watch Kelly and Trump’s meeting or whether it will take place in private.

On Thursday, Kelly will hold another COVID-19 news conference on the same day the Kansas Legislature returns for a one-day adjournment session. During the session, legislators are expected to introduce new legislation that both extends Kansas’ state of emergency related to COVID-19 and gives themselves new abilities to oversee Kelly’s decision-making authority.

In a lighthearted moment Tuesday, Kelly said she wasn’t speeding up the state’s reopening plan to appease either Trump or disgruntled Republican state lawmakers — many of whom have voiced strong criticisms of her executive orders issued during the pandemic.

Kelly, who served as a Democratic lawmaker for 14 years, was driven simply by the data, she said.

“The strong criticism is nothing new,” she said with a laugh. “That’s been going on since 2004.”


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