Kansas’ top health official voiced concerns Wednesday regarding the state’s sharp increase in COVID-19 cases, saying the state is "in the middle of a bad convergence."
"Ten days, 2,500 cases — that’s evidence enough," Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Lee Norman said during a news conference.
Norman displayed a graph that showed Kansas’ increase, peak, a slight decrease and the start of another increase, and he noted May 27, the day the Ad Astra Plan became guidance, as the time cases began to rise again.
"In an ideal world, we were supposed to gradually have this continue to tail off so that by July 1 we were at a low point, we were going to have a nice summer and build up our PPE stock and then prepare for the autumn and winter onslaught," Norman said. "Unfortunately by this becoming guidance, that’s when many counties opened up and started returning to business as usual."
The limit on mass gatherings, which is currently 45 people under guidance of Ad Astra Plan Phase 3, has been "blown through" by several counties, Norman said.
Norman said he expects the case trend line to continue upward even as Gov. Laura Kelly put in place a mask mandate that will take effect Friday morning.
Norman continued to stress the importance of wearing a mask.
"When we look at where we are seeing clusters of cases, we are not seeing them in businesses where masks are being worn," Norman said. "We have no clusters attributed to barber shops, hair salons and dental offices. We are seeing a significant increase in clusters related to gatherings where masks are not being worn, bars in particular.
"Your mask protects me, my mask protects you. We want a healthy Kansas economy; we need healthy businesses and healthy Kansans. Masks will help keep businesses open, masks will help keep schools open."
Although Kelly’s mask mandate will require anyone in a public space where social distancing is not possible to wear a mask, counties have the ability to fight the order and not enforce it. The Shawnee County Commission, for instance, rejected the governor’s order on Thursday and called a Monday work session to draft its own compromise order.
Norman said he has concerns about that and knows there will be avenues for people to skirt the mask mandate.
"My hope is that people will learn, that they will see guidance has been given that is successful, if it’s adopted, and when the course that they are pursuing is unsuccessful that they will change," Norman said.
Norman added the mask mandate will be effective and successful "to the degree that people adopt it."