TOPEKA — A group of more than 60 Kansas legislators signed a joint letter declaring the state at a tipping point in the battle against COVID-19 and urging people to intensify their response to the pandemic.
Members of the House and Senate, representing the Republican and Democratic parties, added their names to the letter making a case that widespread community transmission of coronavirus was jeopardizing the ability of hospitals across the state to care for the sick.
“It has been a long and hard 2020 and COVID-19 has affected all of us,” the letter says. “As we approach the New Year there is great hope. But we are still months away from turning the corner on this pandemic. We all need to find the will and discipline to finish this fight.”
“We the undersigned commit to promoting and practicing the pillars of infection control and doing our part to slow and eventually stop the spread of the virus. We respectfully request you to join us in this fight.”
The letter issued Thursday included a photograph of more than three dozen legislators wearing masks and wrapped around text of the core message: “It’s not a COVID crisis … it’s a health crisis.”
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported Wednesday testing confirmed 162,446 cases of COVID-19 in Kansas as well as 1,679 fatalities linked to the pandemic since March. The state had hospitalized 5,290 people with the coronavirus, which has infected Kansans ranging in age from newborn to 107 years. In Kansas, at least 83,000 women and 76,000 men have contracted the virus. New statistics are to be released Friday.
Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kansas, and Rep. Susan Concannon, a Republican from Beloit, were among instigators of the campaign to convince Kansans to collectively change their behavior and act quickly to curb spread of the virus “because our status quo is not working and the implications are dire.”
The legislators’ pleaded for people to follow basic tenets of public safety in a pandemic: wear a face covering, wash hands frequently, stay home if possible, avoid large gatherings, try to be socially distanced from others. It identified masking as a “critical step forward,” a reference to reality that many Kansans defy county or state recommendations on face coverings.
The letter raised the prospect of vaccines giving people legitimate hope about turning the COVID-19 corner in 2021, but warned steps had to be taken now to bend the infection curve to limit community spread and keep hospitals from being overwhelmed.
“It is critical we reignite a sense of duty and ownership to do all we can to slow the spread of this virus to protect the health and safety of individuals and their loved ones,” the letter says. “While we cannot change the hearts and minds of everyone, we each can take personal responsibility to make changes that will ultimately be lifesaving.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Laura Kelly said a public awareness campaign, “Stop the Spread. It’s Up to US, Kansas,” was initiated to spread information about the importance of COVID-19 testing, wearing masks and taking other health precautions through the holiday season. The state’s campaign is financed with federal CARES Act funding and led to a partnership with the Kansas Hospital Association, Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Kansas Farm Bureau, the Kansas Leadership Center and other stakeholders.
“This campaign aims to reach every corner of our state with critical public health messages infused with some humor and holiday spirit to bring a smile and rally our strength,” Kelly said.
It’s part of a strategy to rapidly increase the state’s ability to provide COVID-19 diagnostic and screening tests to Kansans free of charge, she said. The overall goal is to double the amount of testing in Kansas by the end of the year. To date, about 812,000 COVID-19 tests have been conducted in Kansas.
Testing numbers have grown dramatically since early in the pandemic when only those with symptoms or at risk of exposure were tested. The message evolved to the point that Kansas officials say everyone ought to get tested so public health officials can better track the virus.
There’s also a new Kansas website — GoGetTested.com/Kansas — that identifies free testing locations in the state. Seven sites are listed and the state expects to add more locations to mirror community needs.