Kelly announces unified testing strategy to bolster Kansas’ COVID-19 response as state sets record for new cases

photo by: Screenshot via Facebook Live

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly speaks at a news conference on Monday, September 28, 2020 at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

On the same day that Kansas hit a new high for new COVID-19 cases in a single data reporting period, Gov. Laura Kelly announced a strategy to rapidly increase the state’s ability to test both symptomatic and asymptomatic people for the respiratory disease.

The strategy, Kelly said, is an attempt to generate a more comprehensive statewide approach to slowing the spread of COVID-19. In past weeks, she has decried Kansas’ “patchwork” response framework — a result of a legislative compromise in June that stripped her of some emergency management powers.

“It’s my duty as governor to impart the seriousness of this situation and continue seeking solutions and resources that will keep Kansas communities safe and healthy,” she said.

Few specific details about the strategy were available on Monday, but the ultimate goal is to better coordinate public and private testing efforts. What Kelly called Phase One of the strategy will involve continued diagnostic testing for those showing symptoms of the virus, but will also add more testing of asymptomatic individuals in areas of the state where community spread is expected to be high. She said the plan will increase routine testing in congregate facilities, including nursing homes, correctional facilities and schools.

Increased funding for COVID-19 testing totaled $50 million in a recent allocation from Kelly’s SPARK Taskforce and the State Finance Council, both of which approved the final distribution of federal CARES Act stimulus dollars that went to Kansas.

Kelly said more details on the strategy would be shared in the coming days and weeks.

“With shared goals and clear metrics, this coordinated strategy will go a long way in ensuring we can effectively test our population and identify where the virus exists in our communities,” Kelly said. “Together, with the use of masks and recommended social distancing, we can better contain the virus in Kansas, and schools and businesses can reopen responsibly.”

Kelly said the strategy will be overseen by Dr. Marci Nielsen, who currently serves as the vice president of GEHA Health, the second-largest federal health benefits provider in the United States. Under former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Nielsen also ran the Kansas Health Policy Authority for four years.

“(She) is skilled, qualified and has already begun work on the unified testing strategy with stakeholders and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment,” Kelly said. “I’m delighted to have Dr. Nielsen on the team and look forward to working with her to make sure we’re getting the most from our investment in testing.”

Health concerns weren’t the only driver for creating the new testing strategy, Kelly said — economic concerns also played a role.

“If we cannot reduce the virus’ spread through our communities, we risk undermining our economic progress. We must give prospective businesses market certainty that we can provide them with a healthy and productive workforce,” Kelly said. “We need a coordinated statewide approach for mask-wearing and testing.”

Kansas on Monday confirmed 2,037 cases of COVID-19 since it last released data on Friday. As Kelly said, it’s the state’s largest case increase over a single reporting period. The total number of confirmed cases since the pandemic began in March now sits at 58,629.

The state also confirmed five additional deaths attributed to the virus, which has now claimed the lives of 637 Kansans.

Kelly urged Kansans not to be complacent as the cases and death toll continue to rise.

“We cannot accept these rising case numbers or normalize the fact that 637 Kansans have lost their lives to COVID-19,” she said. “And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, my concerns remain the same.”

The 2,037 new cases were out of a total of 11,139 tests conducted, meaning the most recent group of tests returned with positive results at a rate of 18.3%.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment will next release data on Wednesday, including an updated list of COVID-19 outbreak locations in which five or more cases have been confirmed in the past 14 days.


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