Gov. Laura Kelly: Wear your mask, but don’t despair over grim COVID-19 updates

Kansas taking bids to expand COVID-19 testing

Gov. Laura Kelly says during a news briefing Tuesday at the Statehouse there is still time to turn around the increasingly grim numbers of COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations and cases. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly said Tuesday her administration has taken an important step toward funneling federal cash into expanded testing capacity for COVID-19.

She also urged Kansans not to despair over the increasingly grim numbers of deaths and infections reported by health officials every couple of days.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has formally made requests for proposals for labs eager for a share of $53 million in CARES Act money earmarked for COVID-19 testing, the governor said. The administration plans to choose the labs that will conduct the testing within a couple of weeks.

The hope is that expanded testing will help health officials identify outbreaks of the virus and usher infected people into quarantine, eventually driving down the numbers of new cases and the percent of people who test positive.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, says expanded testing through the private sector should have been the top priority for federal CARES Act funding. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, said Kansas is in a unique position to expand COVID-19 testing through the private sector, with available lab space and materials to quickly ramp up daily testing capacity. Earlier this year, he urged the administration to use federal funding help get a handle on outbreaks.

“Testing should have been the No. 1 priority,” he said, “and it was done last.”

On Monday, KDHE reported the state’s death toll had climbed to 771. Deaths, hospitalizations and positive tests have repeatedly reached new peaks over the past two months.

Two-thirds of the 906 available intensive care unit beds across the state are filled with patients, including 111 suffering from COVID-19, as the state enters flu season.

Still, the governor said, “there is time for us to turn our virus response efforts around.”

She said “we owe it” to health care professionals, front line workers in restaurants and retail stores, first responders and military personnel to wear a mask and practice social distancing.

Kelly also announced Kansas has joined four other states, 21 cities and two American Indian tribes in the Rockefeller Foundation’s Testing Solutions Group, which facilitates the exchange of best practices for testing and tracing COVID-19.