Gov. Kelly issues new mask mandate; wants schools, businesses open

As the number of COVID-19 cases in Kansas explodes, Gov. Laura Kelly on Wednesday announced a new mask order and said she is determined to keep schools and businesses open.

Under the order, which takes effect Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving, counties that do not require mask wearing, would have one week to adopt a mandate or fall under the state order.

Even so, Kelly acknowledged that current state law would allow any county to opt out of a mask requirement. Kelly said her proposal would allow counties to tailor their mandates to local conditions.

In a news conference, Kelly urged Kansans to help control the virus by wearing masks, socially distancing and practicing good hygiene. “We have reached a new stage in our fight with this virus and how we chose to respond can turn the tide for our businesses, hospitals and schools,” she said.

“I want to be clear, that in addition to protecting the lives of Kansans, I am committed to protecting our businesses and schools and I am determined to keep them open. I’ve heard from parents across the state who don’t know how they will balance another school shutdown with their work. I want each and every Kansan to know that I hear you, but I also need your help,” she said.

In March, Kelly ordered school buildings closed for the remainder of the school year. So far this year, schools have pivoted through various modes of in-class, hybrid and remote learning.

In July, Kelly issued an executive order requiring people to wear masks in public, but the Republican-controlled Legislature had earlier forced Kelly to accept a state law that gave Kansas’ 105 counties the final say on the mask requirement. Many counties chose to make mask wearing voluntary.

But in recent weeks, COVID-19 has afflicted thousands of Kansans, spreading at a record rate and at least a dozen counties have implemented tighter restrictions. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported a rolling average of 2,767 cases per day for the seven days ending Wednesday. There have been 128,594 COVID-19 cases and 1,326 deaths since the pandemic reached Kansas in early March.

Hospitals across the state have said they are filled with COVID-19 patients and the White House coronavirus task force said Kansas was experiencing “aggressive, unrelenting” community spread of the disease and urged stronger control strategies.

Nationally, last week, Kansas had the fifth worst positive test rate, ninth worst per capita rate of new cases and 19th worst per capita death rate. In addition, from Nov. 2-8, nearly half of all nursing homes had at least one staff member test positive and one-fourth of nursing homes had at least one resident test positive.

The White House task force recommended that high school football playoffs should be discontinued and that basketball practices stop. Kelly did not address the issue of sports during her news conference.

Last week, Kelly and legislative leaders agreed to fund public service announcements urging Kansans to follow steps to curb the spread of the virus. Kelly also said her administration is working to enlist the help of local leaders throughout Kansas to work in their communities in fighting COVID-19.

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