OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Gov. Laura Kelly on Friday called for school districts to require masks as hospitals buckle under the strain of increasingly young COVID-19 patients and hundreds of students and staff become infected.
“We really want people to understand that this is no fooling around,” Kelly lamented while speaking at Saint Luke’s South Hospital in Overland Park which is brimming with patients. “This is an emergency.”
The latest health department data shows 154 school clusters, with 1,889 cases.
Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools reported that 82 students and staff were infected in just the first nine days of the academic year, with 220 quarantined. The Turner school district began requiring masks after more than two dozen students were infected.
The Wichita district, which is the state’s largest and isn’t requiring masks, has had “a few” COVID-19 cases since classes started last week, said spokeswoman Susan Arensman. She said the district won’t provide weekly updates on cases until next month.
Kelly noted that schools in other states have shut down over outbreaks.
“Until the vaccine is approved for children under 12, masks can prevent students from quarantining, from getting very sick and dying from COVID-19,” she said. “We got our kids back into the classroom by following public health guidance, by wearing masks, by getting vaccinated. We will get them there and keep them safe by doing exactly those things.”
Kelly said that more COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospitals in the state on Wednesday than any other single day since the pandemic began. Intensive care units are at 100% capacity at six of the state’s largest hospitals, she said, with two-thirds of the patients infected with COVID-19.
“Other hospitals across Kansas are perilously close to maximum capacity,” she said, as some overwhelmed hospitals resort to flying patients to hospitals hundreds of miles away for treatment.
Kansas averaged 1,162 new COVID-19 cases per day for the seven days ending Friday, the kind of figure it was reporting in late January, before vaccines were available to all adults. That has led to an increase in deaths, with the state averaging 16 additional COVID-19 fatalities a day for the seven days ending Friday, bringing the total to 5,494, or one death for every 534 of the state’s residents.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported Friday that 46.8% of the state’s 2.9 million residents have been fully vaccinated, while the national figure is 51.1% and seven northeast and mid-Atlantic states have rates of more than 60%.