Gov. Laura Kelly sounds COVID-19 alarm — again — as number of cases mounts

Gov. Laura Kelly said Monday she supported allocation of $60 million in federal funding for expansion of broadband services in Kansas and would endorse additional spending to help with education, business and health care services tied to the internet. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Gov. Laura Kelly said Monday she supported allocation of $60 million in federal funding for expansion of broadband services in Kansas and would endorse additional spending to help with education, business and health care services tied to the internet. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly said Kansans should respond to rapid escalation of COVID-19 cases and fatalities by recommitting to wearing masks and social distancing to slow spread of the virus or risk imposition of state or county orders shutting down bars and limiting mass gatherings.

During a Statehouse news conference Monday, the governor said the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported the average age of people testing positive in Kansas has fallen to 37. KDHE also said COVID-19 has infected 26,172 and killed 335 in Kansas, tallies that reflected 1,063 additional positive tests and nine more fatalities from Friday to Monday.

She said her administration would take steps next week unless signs emerged that the trajectory of coronavirus had shifted to the positive. She suggested she would recommend the state return to phase two of her Ad Astra plan, which is an advisory to counties and not a mandate.

“That means mass gatherings will be limited again to 15 individuals and that bars and nightclubs would have to close,” she said. “I do not want to go backwards. We can and we must do better. We cannot pretend this virus is disappearing with the summer heat. And we cannot pretend it doesn’t hurt Kansans.”

Kelly said polling showed a majority of Kansans supported wearing of masks in public, but too many skeptics had grown weary of that precaution.

The return in August to in-person K-12 classes and resumption of in-person university instruction will be a challenge in terms of warding off COVID-19, Kelly said.

“There are so many issues and questions, but what I’m concerned about right now is that we are seeing a significant and consistent increase in the number of cases,” she said. “I think about all the hard work of Kansans did from the beginning of March, and it seems a lot of that work was for naught.”

Meanwhile, the secretary at the Kansas Department of Transportation was asked by the governor to lead the Kelly administration’s COVID-19 recovery office. Julie Lorenz will retain her KDOT duties. The recovery office’s first executive director, Cheryl Harrison-Lee, is returning to the private sector, the governor said.

The recovery office and a task force known as SPARK, or Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas, are involved with distribution of $1 billion in federal funding sent to Kansas under the CARES Act. So far, $400 million has been allocated statewide.

“Cheryl built the foundation for the recovery office during some of the most challenging times and dispersed $400 million to the Kansas counties that need it the most,” Kelly said.

The State Finance Council, which is chaired by the governor and includes Republican and Democratic legislators, plans to meet Wednesday to consider appropriation of more federal aid tied to COVID-19.