Gov. Kelly says she will try again for a mask requirement

Citing the recent record surge of COVID-19 cases in Kansas, especially in rural areas, Gov. Laura Kelly said Wednesday she will again try to implement a requirement that Kansans wear face masks when out in public.

Kelly had issued a statewide mask order in July, but 90 of Kansas’ 105 counties quickly opted out. Since then, the number of deaths in Kansas from COVID-19 increased from 200 to 952 and the number of COVID-19 cases has grown from 14,000 to nearly 75,000. In recent days, Kansas is adding approximately 700 coronavirus cases per day and officials said hospitals are starting to struggle to keep up.

Unlike her last attempt, however, Kelly, a Democrat, said she would meet with Republican legislative leaders to try to implement a plan.

“We’re considering all the avenues my administration can take to require masks in public places statewide. I plan to hold a discussion with House and Senate leadership to work towards a bipartisan mask requirement,” Kelly said.

Kelly said wearing a mask has become politicized but that science and experience have shown masks, socially distancing and good hygiene helps tamp down the spread of the virus.

She cited a Brown University study of 200,000 students in 47 states that showed the infection rate of students in schools was about 0.13 percent and the infection rate for school staff was 0.24 percent.

Kelly’s announcement comes on the heels of a dramatic surge in several rural counties. In northwest Kansas’ Norton County, a nursing home saw all its 62 residents contract COVID-19 and 10 of them died.

“The tragic deaths in Norton are a stark reminder that COVID-19 poses a real threat to all Kansans and it doesn’t stop at county lines,” Kelly said.

Asked what has changed from the last time she tried to require masks, Kelly said the surge in cases, deaths and the dissemination of more information about COVID-19.

“Wearing a mask should not be political. It’s about public health and keeping our economy and schools open,” she said.

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