Gov. Laura Kelly announces testing strategy to target asymptomatic Kansans in at-risk areas

By: - September 28, 2020 6:29 pm

Gov. Laura Kelly outlines her administration’s new statewide testing strategy for COVID-19 during a news conference Monday at the Statehouse (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly on Monday announced a COVID-19 testing strategy that will target asymptomatic Kansans in areas with high community spread.

The current state plan limits access to testing for those with symptoms or exposure to individuals with confirmed infections. Phase one of the state’s new plan will provide testing for those without symptoms in “at-risk congregate settings,” like correctional facilities, schools and nursing homes.

Kelly said the goal of the new plan is to help cover gaps in testing across the state.

“With shared goals and clear metrics, this coordinated strategy will go a long way in ensuring we can effectively test our population and identifying where the virus exists in our communities,” Kelly said. “Together with the use of masks and recommended social distancing, we can better contain the virus in Kansas schools and businesses can reopen responsibly.”

Kelly announced the expanded testing strategy — paid for with more than $50 million in CARES act funding allocated to testing in September — following the highest number of cases in a reporting period for the state.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment confirmed 2,037 cases and five new deaths since Friday. That brings the state totals to 58,629 cases and 637 deaths since the pandemic began.

“We cannot accept these rising case numbers or normalize the fact that 637 Kansans have lost their lives to COVID-19,” Kelly said. “If we cannot reduce the viruses spread through our communities, we risk undermining our economic progress.”

Kelly said testing capacity must increase. She said the state is currently administering about 16,000 per week, and under the new plan that number should continue to grow.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park, had previously said the state had a capacity of about 2,800 per day. The goal was to ramp up to 10,800 tests per day to show the state’s positivity rate is closer to 5%.

Marci Nielson, vice president for policy and strategy at the Government Employees Health Association, will lead the new testing strategy. She previously served as president and CEO of the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative in Washington, D.C., and worked at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Kelly said Nielsen already has begun work with stakeholders and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The hope is the testing strategy will provide a clear framework for everyone across the state. Kelly described the current strategy as a “patchwork and a hodgepodge of stuff.”

“It’s more of having everybody operating from the same premise and having one portal to go through, rather than having the nursing homes over here doing this, the schools doing this, somebody else doing that,” Kelly said. “Just having it all operating under here, so we know what’s going on and we know where we need to focus.”

Phase one will focus on screening the population by adding asymptomatic carriers in at-risk areas. When resources and need allow, Kelly said, they will move to surveillance testing, or testing groups outside of congregate living, within the community.

This story has been updated to correct the state’s previous testing capacity.

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.