By the Associated Press:
Kansas officials are considering spending $50 million to dramatically ramp up testing of people who aren’t showing obvious signs of the coronavirus.
A state task force this week backed Kansas Health Secretary Lee Norman’s recommendation to use the federal stimulus money on testing at schools, workplaces and other sites. The goal is to catch coronavirus in people who haven’t even realized they’re carrying it.
Some of the testing would be done at Wichita State University, where a new not-for-profit lab is gearing up to churn out hundreds of thousands of tests by the end of the year.
“I know that sounds like a lot,” said Tonya Witherspoon, Wichita State’s vice president of industry engagement, “but we think several labs in the state need to be able to do that much or more.”
Kansas has so far focused most of its energy on people who know either that they are ill or that they have had direct exposure to a confirmed outbreak. But experts say positivity rates should drop when a state or city goes beyond testing these groups of people who are most likely to be sick.
Right now, about 15% of Kansans who get the test find out they have COVID-19. By Johns Hopkins University’s calculations, that puts it among the states with the highest rates of new positives.
On Wednesday, Kansas health officials reported 971 new cases since Monday, for a total of 50,870 across the state. Kansas also had 52 new deaths, raising that number to 586 since the pandemic began.
The cases include 841 at the University of Kansas, where house parties near campus are raising alarms.
After a debate during the Lawrence City Commission meeting Tuesday, a majority of the commissioners said they were interested in at least considering an ordinance that would make it a municipal offense to violate local health orders designed to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the Lawrence Journal-World reports.
City Attorney Toni Wheeler said the offense would be a misdemeanor that could be prosecuted in municipal court. Violators could face a fine of no more than $500, up to 30 days in jail or both.
However, Vice Mayor Brad Finkeldei and Mayor Jennifer Ananda said they were not sure that creating a municipal ordinance would be the best approach, and that perhaps stronger disciplinary action from the university, such as bans from campus, mandatory quarantines or suspensions, would be more effective.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth is battling a coronavirus outbreak that has infected 206 inmates and five staff members, the Kansas News Service reports. There are currently 1,594 people incarcerated at the prison.
Spokesman Scott Walker said in an email that there have been no deaths and that most inmates who test positive do not have symptoms.
The Leavenworth federal prison is in the same county as the Lansing Correctional Facility, a state prison that saw about half of its population come down with COVID-19 earlier this year.