COVID-19 infects another 5,600 Kansans as state prepares to unleash new testing regimen

Long-term care facilities generated most clusters, cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Kansas

Gov. Laura Kelly is responding to the 2,400 average daily increase in new COVID-19 cases in Kansas with a public-service campaign to educate people about avoiding the virus and a $45 million surge in spending on a broader testing initiative. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Gov. Laura Kelly is responding to the 2,400 average daily increase in new COVID-19 cases in Kansas with a public-service campaign to educate people about avoiding the virus and a $45 million surge in spending on a broader testing initiative. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas public health officials tracking COVID-19 issued Wednesday the third consecutive November report showing spread of the virus to another 5,000 people statewide.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said 5,672 new cases had been documented since Monday. The increase from Friday to Monday was 5,920, while the rise from Nov. 4 to Friday was 5,418.

On Wednesday, KDHE also reported an additional 114 hospitalizations and 34 more deaths related to COVID-19. The pandemic has hospitalized a total of 4,252 Kansans since March, and the rising volume of ill people threatened to exceed capacity of health facilities in terms of staffing and beds. Fatality totals in Kansas have reached 1,215.

Officials in the administration of Gov. Laura Kelly are preparing to reveal companies selected to implement a new $45 million testing strategy to speed test results and broaden understanding of the virus’ movement. The state also is working on a public service campaign to convince more Kansans to take pandemic seriously.

There has been political opposition at the state and county government levels in Kansas to pandemic restrictions that included wearing of a mask, social distancing and avoiding mass gatherings. In addition, individuals across the state have chosen to ignore public health guidance intended to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and to limit rapid expansion of the virus.

During the past week, KDHE reported, a daily average of 2,430 new cases of coronavirus were identified in Kansas.

Kelly said on Tuesday that she would press ahead with a collaborative, bipartisan campaign to raise public awareness about the dangers of COVID-19. She’s expected to unveil next week a new public-service advertising effort to better inform Kansans about the virus.

“If we don’t have consensus and we don’t have robust enforcement, it’s going to be very, very difficult to get anything done,” said Kelly, who gained support from fewer than one-fifth of Kansas county commissions for her mask-mandate order when issued in July. “I will tell you that everything is on the table, so that if we cannot come up with a consensus that will work, we will revisit that.”

She said Kansas was on the cusp of deploying $45 million in federal CARES Act funding on a testing regimen calculated to identify and isolate more people with the virus. The governor said contracts with commercial laboratories had been signed. The Kelly administration was expected to disclose Thursday winners of those deals. Kansas previously poured $50 million into testing.

This new public-private testing partnership is intended to provide up to 1 million tests through the end of 2020 and deliver results to people within 48 hours. The program endorsed by Republican and Democratic legislators in addition to the governor will target at-risk populations at nursing homes, prisons and schools as well as delve into transmission among asyptomatic Kansans.

Kansas ranks 13th in the nation in terms the seven-day rolling average of newly reported cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 population. At the top of the scale, North Dakota is reporting 174 cases per 100,000. Kansas stands at 70 cases per 100,000, which is better than Nebraska’s 103 cases and worse than Missouri’s 65, Colorado’s 61 and Oklahoma’s 50 cases per 100,000.

Long-term care facilities have been at the epicenter of COVID-19 in Kansas. These nursing homes and residential units have been tied to 350 virus clusters, 5,160 cases of infection, 519 hospitalizations and 563 deaths — all the highest numbers within each of these KDHE reporting categories.

Here are second-leading repositories of COVID-19 in the state: private businesses, 230 clusters; correctional facilities, 5,073 cases; meatpacking plants, 112 hospitalizations; and meatpacking plants, 21 fatalities.

Currently, there are 357 active clusters in Kansas involving 11,900 cases. Top 10 hotspots: Hutchinson Correctional Facility, 280 cases; Norton Correctional Facility, 154 cases; Pittsburg State University, 40 cases; Atchison County Jail, 30 cases; Dodge City schools and the senior living facility Sunrise of Lenexa, both with 29 cases; Topeka Presbyterian Manor, 25 cases; Ellsworth Correctional Facility, 23 cases; and Emporia State University and Equi-Venture Farms, the Topeka treatment facility for people with disabilities, both at 22 cases.

KDHE secretary Lee Norman said escalation of case numbers could be expected to translate into more hospitalizations and fatalities. He urged Kansans to protect themselves from the virus and to get a flu shot.

“Hospital admissions are the result of community spread,” Norman said. “We need community support to push down the spread of the virus. Competition for beds is getting steeper all the time. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s an emergency admission or if it’s influenza or COVID-19, they all compete for the same beds.”

In Kansas, KDHE says, there have been 594,000 negative tests for coronavirus since testing began in March. The age of Kansans infected with COVID-19 has ranged from less than 1 year old to 107 years of age, with a median age of 38.