Kansas health official highlights mask mandate’s effectiveness, says school sports ‘very unlikely to succeed’

Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, speaks at a news conference on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020 at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

The 15 Kansas counties that followed through with Gov. Laura Kelly’s mask mandate are the only areas of the state actively reducing the spread of COVID-19, Kansas’ top health official said Wednesday.

Dr. Lee Norman, Kansas secretary of health and environment, presented the new data at his weekly COVID-19 news conference. Norman said that since Kelly’s order went into effect July 3, there has been no decrease in the amount of cases per capita in the 90 counties that chose to opt out.

The 15 counties that have active mask mandates, on the other hand, have actively reduced the rate of new COVID-19 cases to the point where Kansas’ overall trend line is once again becoming more positive, Norman said. Those 15 counties — including Wyandotte, Sedgwick, Johnson and Douglas counties — are also the most populous in Kansas, with two-thirds of the state’s population.

“It doesn’t take a lot of convincing that this slope of a line, going this direction, represents improvement in the per capita test rate over a four-week period of time,” Norman said. “The no-mask counties are flat, so there’s no activities that are going on, mask or otherwise, that are causing any improvement.”

“The favorable trend line, the reduction in the rate of new cases, is entirely in the (masked) counties.”

The data, Norman said, essentially represents Kansas as a statewide experiment on the efficacy of masks — one that definitively proves they work.

On Wednesday, Norman also voiced general concerns about sports beginning to resume, but more specifically with high school sports in Kansas. Last week, the Kansas State High School Activities Association narrowly voted against delaying the start of fall sports season — a move which Norman said is “very unlikely to succeed.”

“I’m really concerned that it will be highly likely that there will be COVID-19, and sports will have fits in terms of turning (practices and games) on or off,” he said.

He gave the example of how difficult it has been for professional sports — with their multitude of resources — to keep the virus from spreading within teams and organizations, and he said if those groups struggle to contain it, it seems to reason that high school sports will as well.

Kansas on Wednesday confirmed 841 new cases of COVID-19 since Monday, bringing the state’s cumulative case total to 29,717. The state also confirmed 39 new hospitalizations and three additional deaths, which brings Kansas’ death toll from the virus to 368. The 841 new cases were out of a total of 6,879 tests conducted since Monday, for a positive test rate of 12.2%.

Experts have said since the beginning of the pandemic that areas which have positive test rates above 10% are worrisome.


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