Plan calls for more testing of people without virus symptoms

photo by: Associated Press

Lee Norman, Kansas secretary of health and environment, speaks to the press at the Statehouse during the coronavirus pandemic at a weekly briefing, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Topeka, Kan. (Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

Kansas officials are considering spending $50 million to dramatically ramp up testing of people who aren’t showing obvious signs of the coronavirus.

A state task force this week backed Kansas Health Secretary Lee Norman’s recommendation to use the federal stimulus money on testing at schools, workplaces and other sites. The goal is to catch coronavirus in people who haven’t even realized they’re carrying it, KCUR reports.

Some of the testing would be done at Wichita State University, where a new not-for-profit lab is gearing up to churn out hundreds of thousands of tests by the end of the year.

“I know that sounds like a lot,” said Tonya Witherspoon, Wichita State’s vice president of industry engagement, “but we think several labs in the state need to be able to do that much — or more.”

Kansas has so far focused most of its energy on people who know either that they are ill or that they have had direct exposure to a confirmed outbreak. But experts say positivity rates should drop when a state or city goes beyond testing these groups of people who are most likely to be sick.

Right now, about 15% of Kansans who get the test find out they have COVID-19. By Johns Hopkins University’s calculations, that puts it among the states with the highest rates of new positives.

On Wednesday, Kansas health officials reported 971 new cases since Monday, for a total of 50,870 across the state. Kansas also had 52 new deaths, raising that number to 586 since the pandemic began.

Norman said at a news conference that 37 of the new deaths were added through a review of death certificates. But that still meant 15 had occurred since Monday, a higher than normal number.

“We are getting to a very sensitive point in time as we talked about during Labor Day with universities, colleges and schools starting back again, athletics those sorts of things,” Norman said. “People are starting to mass gather again in ways that we didn’t see as much of over the summer when people were more dispersed out. As the overall number count goes up, we are going to have more deaths.”


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