State to offer info on school COVID cases

Kansas will release more info on school outbreaks and youth vaccination rates, Gov. Laura Kelly announced.


State News

September 2, 2021 - 9:21 AM

Kansas will soon release more information on school COVID-19 outbreaks and youth vaccination rates as many districts begin the year without masks, Gov. Laura Kelly announced Wednesday.

Kelly said a new working group of pediatricians, school nurses and other health care providers will meet weekly to discuss how schools can operate safely amid the pandemic. She said the group will release a weekly report that will provide a list of schools with active outbreaks and best practices on masking, testing and quarantining. 

The report also will include a county-by-county breakdown on youth vaccination rates, cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

“There is nothing more important than keeping students healthy and alive,” Kelly said at Wesley Children’s Hospital in Wichita, which has had more children hospitalized with COVID-19 in August than in any other month of the pandemic. 

Kelly has repeatedly urged schools to add mask mandates, and many have. 

An Associated Press analysis found that as of Friday, 30 of the state’s 50 largest districts have mask mandates in place, with most passed in the last month during often heated meetings and protests. Those 30 districts educate a combined 262,585 of the state’s 476,435 public schoolchildren. 

Many of those that started the year without masks have struggled, including the Wellington district, which closed down Friday because of an outbreak. Several other mask-optional district added mandates after having to quarantine large numbers of students. 

Kelly said she hoped the “reality on the ground” would drive school boards to require masks. 

“But in the event that the school board does not take that step and require masking, then I would turn to every parent in the state of Kansas and just say, ‘You can. It is your kid. If you want to put a mask on your kid, regardless of whether or not it is required, please do,’” she said.

Kelly also has urged more people to get vaccinated as the state rate lags behind the national rate by about 10 percentage points. She said some of the vaccine lotteries in other states are “flashy” but that when you look at the data they “really don’t move the needle.”

She said she hoped that the state would have more success with its partnership with the Dillons grocery store chain. Through the program, people can get $50 per dose or a total of $100 to get vaccinated.

Dr. Jennifer Bacani-McKenney, who is a member of the new school pandemic workgroup, said the COVID-19 situation is dire. The family physician in Fredonia said a colleague recently had to call 35 different hospitals to find an intensive care unit bed for a patient. The transfer took 28 hours to arrange.

“We are not in one of the most challenging times we have ever experienced,” said Bacani-McKenney, who also is the mother of an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old.

She said the children like hers who are too young to be vaccinated depend on the community to protect them by getting vaccinated, wearing masks and social distancing.

“Unfortunately we are seeing people not do these basic things to protect each other,” she said, adding that: “The same science we teach our kids in our schools is being ignored in our communities.”