Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Lee Norman said Wednesday that the state is still in "the first quarter" of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, warning that the arrival of flu season will further strain hospital capacity.


He also warned that a vaccine is not likely before the end of the calendar year.


"If this were a football game, my estimate is we are at about the end of the first quarter," Norman said at a Statehouse news conference. "With the fall, the winter, the early spring coming, I think we have quite a number of months ahead of us. I say that because things are changing and we have some real challenges."


Norman’s words come as the state announced 1,536 new coronavirus cases since Monday, as well as 11 new deaths.


New federal metrics also show the state is sixth nationally in the percentage of positive tests and 16th in the number of cases per 100,000 people each week.


And Kansas’ hospital usage is holding steady, although Norman said that could pose risks as flu season nears, meaning those cases would start to appear in hospitals and intensive care units.


But while the state reported 11 new case clusters, none of them were associated with K-12 schools, except for cases related to sports. The news comes as more districts, including several in the Topeka area, returned to school this week.


And the state hasn’t identified any cases related to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, which drew hundreds of thousands of bikers and has raised the alarm of public health officials as a "superspreader" event.


While eight states have reported cases, Norman cautioned that there might be a lag before Kansas knows if it will be added to that list. And unless a person tells contact tracers they attended the event, it is possible the state will never know for certain.


"Whether the person ’fesses up’ that they were there or not, whether they even appear, it is hard to know with 100% certainty," he said. "I’m sure we’ll see some but I don’t have any that I can put my finger on and say this came from Sturgis in Kansas."


Norman cautioned that he would be "quite pleased" if there was a vaccine by the end of the calendar year.


That doesn’t mean the state isn’t preparing for what a vaccine might entail. As the world prepares a supply chain ahead of any potential developments, one concern that has emerged is that many facilities won’t be able to successfully keep the vaccines cold, sustaining what is called an unbroken cold chain.


Such a concern was particularly acute in rural facilities, Norman said.


In the meantime, KDHE has been working with regional staff from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to prepare a plan, he added.


"It really depends on which age groups, the prioritization and how fast or slow the manufacturers come through with it," Norman said.