Kansas schools, businesses slowly relaxing restrictions as vaccine rollout continues

WICHITA — Students in Wichita are resuming in-person learning and some bars and restaurants in the Kansas City area are extending their hours as the bumpy COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues.

The Wichita district, which is the state’s largest with about 47,000 students, is bringing elementary students back on Wednesday. These young students had been sent home late last year because of a lack of substitutes and rising COVID-19 cases.

The district also plans for middle and high school students, who have been in remote learning since the start of the academic year, to return later this month in a hybrid mode. That means they’ll be in person part of the time and at home the rest.

Government leaders in Wyandotte County also recently announced that bars and restaurants in the county could remain open past midnight starting Wednesday. Mayor David Alvey said in a statement that the goal was to help businesses succeed and contain the spread of coronavirus.

“To the extent employees and patrons continue to mask up, maintain social distancing, disinfect, and limit gatherings, the relaxation of these orders can be accommodated — encouraging business activity and protecting public health,” Alvey said. “Each of us must strive to neither get nor give the coronavirus.”

Bars and restaurants will still be limited to 50% of their normal operating capacity, and patrons will still be required to wear masks unless actively eating or drinking, The Kansas City Star reports.

The vaccine rollout has been slowly gaining momentum in Kansas but hit a hiccup in Topeka, where Stormont Vail Health is looking into whether anyone not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine may have received one.

During a media briefing held Tuesday afternoon via Zoom, Robert Kenagy, Stormont Vail’s president and CEO, addressed news that individuals not associated with the health system took advantage of an online vaccination scheduling tool provided to the system’s health care workers, The Topeka Capital-Journal reports.

He said it is possible someone not yet eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine — based on the state’s vaccine rollout guidelines — may have been vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the Kansas Department of Labor is warning that people who are using automatic phone dialers in an attempt to reach someone with the agency about their unemployment claims are jamming the system and making it difficult for others to get through, The Wichita Eagle reports.

Auto-dialers don’t work with the phone system at KDOL and won’t allow a caller to connect with someone at the department, said Ryan Wright, special assistant to the acting secretary of labor. It also creates problems for callers who aren’t using the automatic dialers.

In early December, Wright said most people were able to reach a live human operator within the first few times of calling in. That changed when call volumes grew larger and more claimants began to use automatic dialers.

The problems with reaching KDOL staff also come at a time when the agency is working to implement new federal unemployment programs that were signed into law last month, like additional weekly payments and extended benefits for some. More people have called to ask questions about the new programs, too.

“What we’re seeing right now is kind of a perfect storm,” Wright said.


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