House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, urged Gov. Laura Kelly avoid a statewide mask mandate in response to the delta variant of COVID-19, but pressured the unvaccinated to get a coronavirus shot. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — The top Republican in the Kansas House sent a letter Wednesday to Gov. Laura Kelly arguing against mask mandates in response to the delta variant of COVID-19 and campaigning for bonus pay to nurses straining to care for the flood of hospital patients.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe lawmaker hospitalized with coronavirus in 2020, said unvaccinated Kansans should follow in footsteps of parents and grandparents who participated in programs to reduce the misery of polio, mumps, measles and shingles.
“I encourage every Kansan to consider vaccination,” Ryckman said in the letter to the Democratic governor. “For many Kansans, receiving the vaccine may be the difference between a short recovery at home and a lengthy hospitalization or worse.”
He said health professionals estimated four of every five Kansans hospitalized for COVID-19 were not vaccinated. Other sources put that figure above 90%.
Kelly and Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, have been consistent advocates for vaccination against COVID-19, arguing for months that getting the shots protected the recipient as well as an individual’s friends and family.
“Our state is seeing high numbers of people diagnosed with the delta variant. The best way to fight this disease, especially the variant, is to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” Norman said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published data Tuesday indicating unvaccinated people in Los Angeles County were five times more likely to get COVID-19 than vaccinated peers and 29 times more likely to be hospitalized for their infections.
Ryckman said elevated hospitalization numbers in Kansas shouldn’t prompt issuance by Kelly of a statewide disaster declaration or mandates harmful to families, schools and businesses.
He proposed the governor use federal coronavirus emergency funding for sign-on bonuses, overtime pay and other initiatives to address the nursing shortage at acute-care hospitals in the state. He also recommended the state provide health care workers with free counseling and make innovative use of paramedics to help alleviate the workload in medical facilities.
The speaker’s prescription for responding to the delta variant included creation of sites for people to receive monoclonal antibody treatments “to reduce the number of COVID patients requiring hospitalization.”
The cocktail made by Regeneron and GlaxoSmithKline has been made available for people age 12 and older who weren’t hospitalized or severely ill from COVID-19. Health care professionals suggested antibody protection didn’t last long and shouldn’t be viewed as a replacement for preventative vaccines.
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