Kansas to begin releasing locations of some active COVID-19 outbreaks, Kelly says

photo by: Associated Press

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly speaks during a news conference Wednesday, July 15, 2020, at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., regarding delaying schools reopening in the fall. (Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

Story updated at 5:37 p.m. Wednesday:

One week from Wednesday, the state of Kansas will begin releasing the locations of some active COVID-19 outbreaks, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

Gov. Laura Kelly’s office said that last week, Kansas saw its largest increase in outbreaks since the pandemic began, with 26 new clusters from Wednesday to Friday. The state ended last week with 170 active outbreaks.

“With our children returning to school, sports resuming, and college campuses reopening – we’re seeing the largest increase in outbreaks to date,” Kelly said in the release. “By sharing where the outbreaks take place, Kansans will be better informed about the threat of COVID-19 in their schools and communities, and will be better prepared to contain and stop the spread of the virus.”

Locations of active outbreaks will be released when there are five or more confirmed cases associated with the location, the release said. For private businesses, the name of the business will only be released if there are 20 or more cases associated with the location. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment defines an outbreak as two or more cases associated with one known source of exposure.

Kansas on Wednesday confirmed 1,328 new cases of COVID-19 since data was last released Monday, bringing the state’s cumulative total to nearly 44,000. Since Monday, KDHE also confirmed another 12 deaths attributed to the virus, which has now claimed the lives of 458 Kansans.

The 1,328 cases were out of 5,998 total tests, a percent positive rate of roughly 22%. In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, KDHE Secretary Dr. Lee Norman said everything shows Kansas is moving in the wrong direction — hence the decision to begin publicizing the locations of outbreaks.

“With the numbers all going the wrong direction, we have to start getting more serious,” Norman said, “One of the ways to do that is to provide people information they need.”

Since the pandemic began, KDHE and the state of Kansas have let local health officials decide whether to release the locations of COVID-19 outbreaks. Most chose not to release that information in the beginning but now are struggling to keep up with the level of new cases, Norman said.

Choosing to begin releasing the locations of outbreaks isn’t meant to cause harm to businesses and organizations, Norman said, but instead to give the public data to better inform their health decisions. He gave the example of a person with a loved one in a nursing home who can’t get information about the level of infection among other patients in the facility.

“It’s not meant to cause a great deal of heartache in businesses, schools, churches, (or) organizations,” Norman said. “It’s meant to provide information so people can make informed choices as to how to keep themselves safe.”

Kelly said outbreak information would be published weekly on Wednesdays, beginning Sept. 9, on the COVID-19 dashboard on the KDHE website and will include the number of cases associated with each outbreak.

The move will likely open the state’s universities to more public scrutiny on where outbreaks of the respiratory virus are located. The University of Kansas has reported several hundred cases of COVID-19 but hasn’t confirmed whether any outbreaks exist or where they are located — though nine fraternity and sorority houses are currently under quarantine orders from Douglas County.


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