Hospital capacity and staffing shortages remain acute concerns, Gov. Laura Kelly and Department of Health and Environment Secretary Lee Norman said Tuesday, although statewide mitigation tactics aren’t yet in the cards.
As facilities from Topeka to Wichita are seeing a shortage of available workers, Norman said the "competition for beds is getting stiffer."
And staff shortages remain a problem as doctors, nurses or technicians contract the virus or await test results. Some hospitals in Kansas had adopted a bonus structure to encourage staff to take on more shifts, Norman said.
Between Friday and Monday, the state saw 5,920 new cases of COVID-19, as well as 15 deaths reported in that time period. As of Tuesday, the state’s seven-day test positivity rate was 41.3%, according to Johns Hopkins University.
On Monday, Stormont Vail Health in Shawnee County reported an all-time high for infections in its facilities. Sedgwick County health officials told The Wichita Eagle on Monday that intensive care bed shortages were "critical" at the city’s main hospitals.
Even still, Norman said there was no interest yet in establishing a field hospital or other temporary hospital space, which leaders in Wisconsin were forced to construct after a dramatic rise in cases.
In Kansas, the cold weather would likely make this prohibitive, Norman said, and he noted hospitals wanted to stay within their current footprint if at all possible.
"You could build all sorts of construction and not necessarily solve the staffing problem," Norman said. "At this point in time, beds are tight, but it is really staffing that we are most concerned about."
While "all options remain on the table" for halting the virus’s spread, Kelly said the priority would be continuing to work with Republican legislators on a compromise strategy that included increased partnerships with local governments to encourage mask-wearing, as well as a public service campaign.
She pointed to two counties, Lyon and Jefferson, that have imposed orders requiring face coverings in recent days. Other counties, however, such as Finney County have declined to implement a mandate, even as cases continue to rise.
Executives in other states, both Democrat and Republican, have taken smaller steps to crack down on virus spread. In Minnesota, officials announced bar capacity would be reduced statewide while Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds narrowed the size of allowable gatherings.
But Kelly said she would opt to leave those types of decisions to county officials for the time being, saying it would be more productive in the long run.
That could change, however, if "the data drives us to do things differently," although she declined to say exactly where that point is.
"If we cannot come up with a consensus that will work we will revisit that," Kelly said.
Kelly did put stock in the state’s unified testing strategy, which officials have long hoped will help better identify outbreaks and improve Kansas’ testing capacity. It is targeted to especially increase the number of tests in the state’s two largest urban areas in Wichita and Kansas City, Kan.
But lawmakers have grumbled that the plan has taken too long to roll out, as the state has been forced to bid out those contracts.
Kelly said the wait will soon be over, with the final contract signed in the last 24 hours. But even still, she cautioned that it wouldn’t be a cure-all strategy.
"It won’t work if people do not abide by the other safety protocols," she said.
Kelly congratulates Biden
Kelly also praised President-elect Joe Biden on his victory in the presidential race, even as President Donald Trump refuses to concede victory.
She noted that her administration had already begun conversations with Biden’s transition team on COVID-19, with the president-elect naming a panel of pandemic leaders on Monday.
And while Trump won Kansas by over 15 points, Kelly urged residents to keep an open mind about what a Biden adminsitration might look like.
"I'm going to take him at his word," she said. "And I hope the people of our state will give him the same opportunity to follow through on his agenda."