Gov. Kelly warns she might push Kansas to move back to Phase 2 if COVID-19 cases keep climbing

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TOPEKA, Kan. – Gov. Laura Kelly said Monday she might recommend counties to go back to Phase 2 of Kansas’ reopening plan if COVID-19 cases continue to climb.

Moving back to Phase 2 would mean mass gatherings would be limited to 15 people and bars and clubs would be forced to close again, KSNT reports.

Kelly noted that Douglas County recently shut down bars, and health officials there saw a drop in the number of cases.

Phase 2 would also mean no summer camps, fairs or festivals, and public swimming pools would have to close.

The Democratic governor can issue orders calling for statewide restrictions, but the state’s 105 counties are allowed to opt out of her directives under a law enacted last month as a compromise between her and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Top GOP lawmakers have been critical of Kelly’s handling of the pandemic, arguing that it’s inappropriate for her to impose “one size fits all” measures on a state where the number of infections per 1,000 residents varies widely.

As of Monday, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 26,172 cases of the coronavirus in the state. That includes 335 deaths and 1,644 hospitalizations.

“That’s 1,063 new cases and nine more deaths since Friday,” Kelly said.

Kelly said she’s fought to protect Kansans since the beginning of the pandemic and will continue to do so.

“I do not want to move backwards,” she said. “We can and we must do better. We cannot pretend this virus is disappearing with the summer heat, and we cannot pretend it doesn’t hurt Kansans because it does.”

The governor said she’ll issue a new order next week if the spread of the virus doesn’t slow down.

Only two Kansas counties — Rawlins County in the northwest and Wallace County in the west — have yet to report a single positive case.

Kelly lifted statewide restrictions on businesses and public gatherings on May 26 in favor of giving counties guidance after weeks of criticism from GOP lawmakers that she was moving too slowly to reopen the coronavirus-battered economy.

She issued an order July 2 calling for people to wear masks in public and at their workplaces, but many counties opted out.

She also sought to delay the reopening of public and private K-12 schools for three weeks from mid-August until after Labor Day after she closed school buildings in mid-March for the rest of the last school year.

But state law also required her to get the approval of the Republican-controlled State Board of Education, and its 5-5 vote last week killed her order and left reopening decisions to the state’s 286 local school boards.

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