Story at a glance
- Kansas is reporting increasingly high testing positivity rates and hospitalizations.
- Gov. Laura Kelly is at odds with local leaders on how to curb the spread of the virus.
With the Midwestern and Southwestern states emerging as the new COVID-19 epicenter in the U.S., states like New Mexico, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Wyoming are recording record-breaking spikes in new daily cases.
Kansas is just one of the approximately 33 states with rising COVID-19 case counts, but recently saw its seven-day rolling average testing positivity rate climb above 20 percent, well beyond the less than 10 percent recommended to begin reopening public venues and economic sectors, The Associated Press reports.
This lead in positivity tests comes along with the highest new case count recorded over the entire course of the pandemic, which saw 991 new confirmed COVID-19 infections on Oct. 5.
Gov. Laura Kelly (D) announced a statewide mask mandate in June. AP reports that more than 90 of the state’s total 105 counties have decided not to enforce the order, prompting Kelly to ask for state legislators’ help in enforcing the mask order.
“We cannot sit by as the cases continue to rise in our rural communities, threatening lives and businesses,” she said.
Despite these figures, some have been critical of the universal mask order. State Senate President Susan Wagle (R) has stated that local governments should make decisions based on their individual communities.
“I’ve stated all along, and still believe, a one-size-fits-all COVID solution doesn’t work for our diverse state,” she said Thursday to AP. “Local leaders have done a great job in dictating local responses after public hearings and discussions with their constituents.”
While lawmakers differ on how to enforce public health protocols to reduce viral transmission, public health experts view the lack of masks and physical distancing as a reason for the virus’s continued spread.
Lee Norman, the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, has said residents’ lack of wearing masks, physically distancing and avoiding crowds has contributed to the spread.
Along with new cases, hospital occupancy is slowly climbing back to previous rates from May, according to state health department data, culminating in 3,506 hospitalizations statewide.
Sedgwick County, home to the state's largest city, Wichita, is one of the three counties leading in case volume. The city government recently weakened orders that required face masks be worn once the initial mandate expired, according to AP.