Kansas passes somber COVID-19 milestone of 1,000 deaths; total case count surpasses 82,000
photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World Photo
Updated at 4:55 p.m.
Gov. Laura Kelly on Wednesday ordered flags across Kansas to be flown at half-staff after the state passed another somber milestone in the continuing fight against COVID-19: 1,000 killed by the novel respiratory virus.
COVID-19 has now claimed the lives of 1,007 Kansans since the pandemic took hold in March, an increase of 31 deaths since the state Department of Health and Environment last released data on Monday. Kelly for weeks has reiterated that Kansans cannot accept the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 as normal and must stay vigilant in practicing public health guidance to slow the spread of the virus.
“One of the many terrible impacts of this virus has been that families are unable to hold in-person services to mourn the passing of their loved ones. Each one of these Kansans was someone’s child, parent, or grandparent,” Kelly said in a statement. “They were part of a community.”
For perspective, 1,007 deaths is over four times the number of Kansans who have died from influenza in the last two flu seasons combined, according to KDHE data. Kelly added in a press conference Wednesday afternoon that it took six months of the COVID-19 pandemic to lose 500 Kansans, but just over six weeks to lose the second 500 Kansans.
Kelly also announced that KDHE has finalized its unified testing strategy, which will continue diagnostic testing efforts across the state while emphasizing regular COVID-19 screenings to test for the respiratory virus before it spreads.
The unified testing strategy, paid for with federal funding allocated by Kelly’s SPARK Taskforce, will double the amount of COVID-19 testing being done in the state and will result in over 1 million tests conducted in Kansas by the end of 2020, she said.
Kelly said she convened a meeting of top legislative leaders on Tuesday to discuss whether a special session was needed to pass a comprehensive mask mandate policy. The group requested that they first work to reach out to local officials that haven’t opted in to the original July 2 mask order, but Kelly said Wednesday that she agreed to do so, but wouldn’t wait long for an increase in mask compliance at the local level before calling a special session.
“We cannot afford to wait another moment to begin this process,” she said.
Kansas on Wednesday saw its cumulative COVID-19 case count climb to 82,045, an increase of 3,369 from data released Monday. Approximately 1,500 of those cases were attributed to an update in KDHE’s disease surveillance system over the past weekend that resulted in an influx of past cases the department hadn’t previously logged.
That means roughly 1,860 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Kansas just since Monday, continuing a marked uptick in new cases that the state has struggled to contain for weeks. The state also confirmed 106 new hospitalizations due to COVID-19 since Monday.
Accounting for the past cases logged through the KDHE system update, the approximately 1,860 cases found since Monday were out of a total of 7,102 tests conducted, KDHE said. That represents a positive rate of over 26% — well beyond the 10% rate that health experts have said since the beginning of the pandemic is reason for concern.
KDHE updated its list Wednesday of locations across the state that had been connected with five or more cases of the virus in the past 14 days. Douglas County was once again free from any named outbreak locations, as it has been since Sept. 30. The state is monitoring 261 active outbreaks, up from 235 last week.