Kelly: Spread of COVID-19 under control in Kansas for the first time since May

With the effective COVID-19 reproductive rate dropping below a crucial threshold, Gov. Laura Kelly on Tuesday expressed confidence the spread of the virus is under control for the first time since May. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Implementation of the state’s unified strategy has led to control over the spread of COVID-19 for the first time since the stay-at-home order was lifted in May, Gov. Laura Kelly said Tuesday.

This piece of positive news comes as a result of the virus’ effective reproductive rate dropping below one point. With a factor of one or lower, the expectation is that the virus will eventually burn out, rather than continue to spread uncontrollably.

Thus far, the state has conducted 132,000 tests as part of the unified testing strategy.

In a news conference at the Statehouse, Kelly praised the counties that have adopted her mask mandate.

“There is no doubt that this change is also a result of additional counties opting into my administration’s face-covering protocol,” Kelly said. “I will repeat: If each of us takes personal responsibility follows the guidance of public health experts, we can continue to slow this breaking virus.”

Adding to this positive outlook is the early stages of vaccine rollout around the state. With the holidays approaching and a need for additional federal funding at the state level, Kansas is not out of the woods just yet.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment recorded 4,174 new cases and 107 new deaths between Friday and Monday. This brings state totals to 204,600 cases and 2,448 deaths since the pandemic began.

While KDHE is still recording more than 1,000 cases per day, health secretary Lee Norman said the decreasing trendline of cases indicate they are going in the correct direction. He also noted Kansas did not see the expected surge in cases following Thanksgiving.

“I think it’s important that we didn’t see the marked surge that we had worried about after the extended holidays, so I commend the people that took that great advice to heart,” Norman said.

“You can still have hotbeds,” he said, “but the overall trendline as a state is dropping down.”

While Thanksgiving gatherings didn’t produce the anticipated post-holiday surge, Norman urged Kansans to adhere to best practices for the upcoming holidays. In line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for low-risk activities, he suggested small dinners with those in your household, rather than large gatherings.

For those seeking to see large swaths of their family, a virtual gathering is the best avenue, he said.

Both Norman and Kelly emphasized that personal responsibility in the coming weeks and months, in tandem with vaccines, would eventually see Kansas through the COVID-19 storm.

Kansas began administering the vaccine to high-risk health care workers last week when the Pfizer vaccine arrived. The state received a shipment from Moderna, the second biotechnology company to receive Food and Drug Administration approval for emergency use, earlier this week.

Kelly anticipated the state would receive 49,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of the week and an additional 20,000 next week. She said the state should receive a second Pfizer shipment this week with a little more than 17,500 doses and the same amount again next week.

The Pfizer allocation will go toward long-term care facilities. Moderna vaccines will be used for health care workers.

Congress passed a stimulus relief package late Monday, which includes funding for vaccine rollout, but Kelly expressed disappointment the package did not include some form of direct aid to cities and states.

“Without that funding, we risk having to make further budget cuts that could threaten our recovery,” Kelly said. “While I’m grateful for what is in the funding bill, I’m really encouraging the Kansas congressional delegation to continue to push for additional funding for states and cities, so they can beat back the virus and shore up their economies.”