How fares the Kansas battle against the COVID-19 pandemic?
There’s bad news and good news, as encapsulated by a couple of recent Topeka Capital-Journal stories. The bad news is that cases continued to surge across the state for much of August and September, with no decline in sight. The good news is that the state is working to expand testing and include individuals who don’t appear sick (this is critical to catching asymptomatic cases, which can still spread the virus).
As Titus Wu wrote on Sept. 28: "Non-symptomatic testing will be added in areas where there’s potential clusters of the virus, such as nursing homes, schools and correctional facilities. … The goal once resources allow, the governor said, is conducting surveillance testing, where a representative sample of a population is tested in order to gauge potential spread."
Kansas has a smaller population than many other states. That means our testing has often lagged the nation, and many have seen substantial delays in receiving results. This added capacity, and this wider-ranging strategy, should allow us to move from a full-time defensive crouch against the virus.
Some $54 million in federal funding under-girds this effort, reminding us all how important it is that the federal government support states in fighting COVID-19. We simply don’t have the resources to do it on our own, at the scale required.
But another recent story caught our eyes, one that shows how challenging the landscape is in Kansas.
"Higher testing and increased compliance with mask wearing guidance are the top pieces of advice the White House Coronavirus Task Force has for Kansas, according to two reports obtained and published by the Center for Public Integrity," wrote Andrew Bahl on Sept. 30, adding later that "The most recent reports made no mention of closing or limiting bar and restaurant operations, only that ‘standard’ metrics should be used when considering changes in counties with high infections."
We’re working on the testing part. But compliance on mask wearing? It’s insane that we’re still behind on this point. Gov. Laura Kelly’s statewide mandate is optional for counties, and many have decided not to institute it. Without a vaccine, and with few proven treatments, wearing a mask is a simple and effective way to reduce spread.
What’s more, bar and restaurant owners must understand that regardless of what federal or local agencies suggest or allow, indoor dining or drinking, in spaces where people converse for long periods of time, isn’t ideal. Limiting hours makes a difference, but moving proceedings outside is important, too.
So the news is mixed. But we all can play a part as Kansas prepares for winter.