TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly urged Congress to swiftly adopt a new emergency COVID-19 relief bill for unemployed people and struggling businesses and to approve an extension of the Dec. 30 deadline for state and county governments to spend previous funding allocated under the CARES Act.
“For the past several months, congressional leaders have stalled and squabbled while Kansas families and businesses have been dealing with the consequences,” said Kelly, a Topeka Democrat. “Relief funding to support unemployed Kansans, small businesses and vaccine distribution will be paramount in protecting our state’s long-term economic health.”
She said many communities would be forced to surrender CARES Act dollars not spent by end of 2020. She praised GOP U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts of Kansas for supporting legislation to authorize a longer window of time to expend that initial aid. She said the entire Kansas federal delegation should push House and Senate leadership to act promptly.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported the state registered 194,569 cases of COVID-19 and 2,253 fatalities among people infected with the virus. That represented an increase since Monday’s report from KDHE of 4,551 cases and 144 deaths.
“The rate at which deaths have been increasing in our state is alarming,” Kelly said. “To give some perspective, it took a little over seven months for the first 1,000 coronavirus deaths to occur in our state from mid-March to mid-October. It took less than seven weeks for the next 1,000 deaths to occur from mid-October to mid-December.”
She said the spike had been acute in rural communities of Kansas, where access to health care was limited and the average age of the population higher. She pointed to Gove County where the virus had killed a higher percentage of the county’s residents than in any other county in the United States. Gove County has lost one of every 132 residents, she said.
Another sign that COVID-19 metrics were headed in the wrong direction emerged from Kansas State University, which paused all football activities and informed the Big 12 Conference the university couldn’t field enough players to prepare for and play in a bowl game later in December. KSU took the action following the most recent coronavirus test results and contact tracing procedures.
“This has been an unbelievably challenging year for everyone, but we were very excited to have the opportunity to end the season in a bowl game,” said Gene Taylor, Kansas State’s director of athletics. “But, with new positive cases and additional close contacts in our program, we would not have enough players to continue practices and field a team for the bowl game.”
Kansas received the initial shipment of 24,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine Monday, and about 600 workers at Stormont Vail Health in Topeka were given a shot Wednesday. She said 48,000 more doses were scheduled to arrive in Kansas by next week.
She said the top priority in Kansas was to innoculate health-care personnel working with coronavirus patients, long-term care facility employees and emergency medical service personnel. Later this winter, she said, the plan was to expand the target pool to first-responders, front-facing workers involved with essential infrastructure and people engaged in education and child-care occupations. Other adults in Kansas could expect to receive the vaccine in the spring, she said, while children would follow during the summer.
KDHE secretary Lee Norman said people administering the vaccine would attempt to verify individuals seeking the treatment weren’t jumping ahead in line.
“We’re hoping that people will self-police and the spirit of good will and community spirit will carry the day,” Norman said. “That is the most humane way, I’d guess I’d say, to manage people and treat them as adults that want to contribute to the greater good.”
Kelly said the state would rely on social media, advertising and a website to reach people who live isolated lives with message encouraging testing and vaccination. In addition, the KDHE secretary said family members could reach out to relatives. Norman also said law enforcement or local health departments might be capable of making certain folks weren’t forgotten.
In addition, the governor said the state had coordinated opening of 24 free testing facilities and expected to open 19 more of these testing locations by the end of this week.