Gov. Laura Kelly said Monday escalation of COVID-19 clusters and the rising number of fatalities linked to the virus necessitate renewal of a state disaster declaration when the existing executive order expires Sept. 15.
Her order would be subject to a vote of Republican and Democratic legislative leaders on the State Finance Council.
“Absolutely, we have to,” Kelly said during a news conference at the Capitol. “We still have an emergency here. Just because September 15 comes and it will go, does not mean that the emergency is going to go with it. It is absolutely imperative that we extend that declaration.”
Kelly, a Democrat, said absence of a Kansas emergency declaration would make it impossible to properly assist local units of government dealing with the pandemic. The idea is to make certain the state can move to counties the resources and equipment necessary to grapple with the virus, she said.
There is a provision of state law developed during a special legislative session in June that allows county commissions to adopt a less-restrictive versions of a governor’s executive orders on public health.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 46,914 Kansans have contracted COVID-19, an increase of 1,694 cases from Friday to Monday. The number of deaths increased by three over the weekend to 485, and hospitalizations climbed to 2,441.
Kelly said she was concerned with resumption of in-person instruction in K-12 school districts and the potential for further spread of the virus among educators and students. The governor said “regardless of the politics” she would “fight to put your health and the health of your students first.”
“I am very concerned at the the way our case numbers continue to grow,” Kelly said. “Last week, Kansas reported an increase of 23 deaths from Wednesday to Friday, the most massive jump since the Kansas Department of Health and Environment began reporting case numbers every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.”
On Wednesday, KDHE will begin publicly disclosing active coronavirus clusters from events in which five or more people tested positive. The agency intends to identify private businesses with clusters involving 20 or more people. KDHE previously declined to make a general rule of releasing to the public specific sites of COVID-19 outbreaks.
Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved the Kelly’s administration’s request for a grant to add $300 in federal funding to weekly checks for unemployment benefits. FEMA said it would work with Kelly to implement a system that would make the funding available to Kansas residents who are unemployed because of COVID-19.
Kelly had asked for a $400 boost in unemployment benefits, with $100 coming from state funds, but Republican legislative leaders blocked her proposal.