Kelly says she’ll again seek path to statewide mask mandate as Kansas COVID-19 death toll passes 950

photo by: Kansas Department of Health and Environment

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment's chart of COVID-19 deaths in the state since the pandemic began, current as of Oct. 21, 2020.

Updated at 5:03 p.m. Wednesday

Gov. Laura Kelly said Wednesday that she will soon open discussions with state legislative leaders to ways in which a bipartisan consensus could be reached on instituting a mask mandate for the entire state of Kansas.

Kelly’s initial statewide mask mandate, issued in July, was wildly unpopular among Republican officials and gave counties in the state the option to opt out of the order — which over 90 of the state’s 105 counties did at the time.

But stronger action is needed in the state to manage the spread of COVID-19, Kelly said in a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Wednesday announced that the number of Kansans who have died as a result of COVID-19 has reached 952, an increase of 80 people from data released just two days earlier.

Fifty-five of those deaths were as a result of KDHE’s reconciliation of vital statistics death records process, which periodically audits death records received from local health departments to ensure COVID-19 death totals match with what the department has in its in-house epidemiology system. That means 25 people have died in Kansas from the respiratory virus since Monday, KDHE spokesperson Ashley Jones-Weisner told the Journal-World.

Kelly said Kansans cannot accept still-rising case and death numbers as normal and that, despite both state and national politics making the handling of COVID-19 an inflammatory issue, she would be “abdicating (her) duty as Governor if I failed to confront this problem just because we’re close to an election.”

“The public health experts and scientists have done their homework and they’re all saying the same thing. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Norton County or Johnson County. We can stop this virus if we wear masks, follow good hygiene practices, socially distance and avoid mass gatherings,” she said.

“Wearing a mask should not be political. It’s about public health and keeping our economy and schools open.”

Kelly said discussions with legislative officials haven’t yet been set, but should be soon.

In addition to the marked increase in deaths, Kansas also continued an ongoing pattern of high virus case numbers in Wednesday’s data. Since Monday, the state confirmed 1,448 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the cumulative case total to 74,456 since the pandemic began in March. Those cases were out of a total of 7,115 tests conducted, a percent positive rate of 20.4%.

That rate is one of the highest Kansas has seen during a single data reporting period, and health experts have said since the onset of the pandemic that it’s concerning when an area sees a percent positivity rate over 10%.

The state also registered a higher rate of hospitalizations than in past weeks. Since Monday, 85 people were confirmed to be hospitalized across the state as a result of the virus, a number which is typically closer to 50 or 60 in a single data reporting period.

KDHE also reports on Wednesdays the locations of COVID-19 outbreaks across the state that have accumulated five or more virus cases in the past 14 days. Once again, Douglas County did not have an outbreak that met those qualifications, and has not had a named outbreak since Sept. 30.

Overall, the number of active clusters KDHE is monitoring fell from 241 last week to 235 on Wednesday. However, the number of named outbreaks rose sharply from 39 to 49. The active clusters across the state currently account for 8,575 cases and 177 deaths, the department said.


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