Kansas prepares to invest millions in aggressive expansion of COVID-19 testing

By: - September 14, 2020 7:47 pm

Gov. Laura Kelly said her administration would proceed this week with plans to dramatically expand COVID-19 testing paid for from federal disaster aid. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly said the state of Kansas was on the cusp Monday of dedicating millions of dollars in federal disaster aid to expanding statewide COVID-19 testing to include more people without symptoms of the virus.

A Kelly administration task force responsible for coordinating distribution of $1 billion CARES Act funding among state agencies and local units of government would likely convene Wednesday to discuss a financial plans for widening sweep of coronavirus testing in Kansas, Kelly said. SPARK, or Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas, was formed in May.

“We do need to expand our testing,” the Democratic governor said at the Capitol. “SPARK task force will make recommendations to spend a fair chunk of CARES Act money on testing.”

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, has sought to apply federal disaster money to extend testing across the state. His goal is to show prevalence of the virus in Kansas hovers below 5% rather than the 10.9% registered through limited testing of symptomatic people or individuals known to have been at cluster sites.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said the belated expansion of COVID-19 testing statewide in Kansas would swiftly lower the positivity rate from 10.9% to less than 5%.. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said the belated expansion of COVID-19 testing statewide in Kansas would swiftly lower the positivity rate from 10.9% to less than 5%.. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

His intent is to demonstrate schools and businesses could operate more safely than perceived by people analyzing current statewide testing.

“Once we do statewide testing, which we’re very far behind on, once the governor rolls that out, you’ll see the Kansas positivity rate head to 5% very quick,” Denning said.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported that testing showed 49,899 people in the state known to be infected as well as 2,572 hospitalizations and 534 deaths from the virus.

During the news conference, Kelly reiterated her belief Congress and President Donald Trump needed to reach consensus on a new federal stimulus program to assist municipal and state governments working through tax revenue shortfalls tied to the pandemic.

The governor is in early stages of developing a state budget proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1. Details of her recommendations won’t go to the 2021 Legislature until January.

“Unless we get help from the federal government to back fill revenues on the state and local levels, we will see some pretty serious cuts across the board on education and transportation (and) pension contributions. It will be drastic and very harmful to Kansas and the municipalities,” the governor said.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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