While Gov. Laura Kelly declined Monday to outline what her next steps might be if the state’s COVID-19 case counts continue to rise, she said her administration was "keeping a close eye" on the matter in conjunction with local officials.
The state reported 1,564 new cases and three new deaths since Friday, with a positive test rate of 10.3%.
Kelly said the increases were worrying and that her administration was "exploring every route" to ensure that businesses and schools could remain open while at the same time protecting the health of residents.
The 42,612 Kansans who had been infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic began in March, she noted, was more than the total population of Hutchinson, the state’s 11th biggest city.
"We can all begin to accept this rise in infections and deaths, but they’re not acceptable," she said at a Statehouse news conference.
With 14 case clusters across the state associated with sports and five associated with schools, Kelly also said she remains skeptical about high school football kicking off across the state later this week.
Some school districts in Wichita and the Kansas City metro have called off all fall sports, whereas others, such as Topeka’s Unified School District 501, have opted to delay the start of the football season.
At the college level, Kansas State University announced the number of football players infected had risen to 10, while the University of Kansas said it wouldn’t allow fans in the stadium for the football season opener.
Most others high schools, however,are forging ahead, although Kelly said she fears it will lead to a rise in cases — even without fans in the stands in some areas.
"I don’t see how it can work, but I would be glad to be wrong," she said.
Kelly acknowledged that the state still had work to do with increasing its testing capacity, although Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Lee Norman has said that there are hopes to dramatically expand that via partnerships with private labs.
There is also the reality, Kelly said, that the state only recently has been able to routinely secure the materials and tests necessary to ramp up its benchmarks.
"We are playing catch-up in a lot of ways because the production wasn’t there of either the tests themselves, the testing materials and the PPE," she said. "We’ve got a lot of that stuff now in place. It is a matter of getting it all in place and increasing the amount."
State to provide two ballot drop boxes to counties
Kelly said that Secretary of State Scott Schwab plans to make two ballot drop boxes available to counties, giving voters more options if they wish to avoid voting in person.
Voters will also be able to drop their ballot off in person at their polling place or county elections office, or mail it to their county elections office.
Some counties used the boxes, which serve as a central repository where voters can drop off their ballot, in the primaries. Some election advocates, however, wanted to see the state expand the option further ahead of the general election.
Counties would be "encouraged" to use federal CARES Act funds to purchase more drop boxes, she said.
The boxes have been hotly contested in some other states, with President Donald Trump’s campaign and conservative allies filing suit in Pennsylvania over the practice. They argued that the boxes are a means of "harvesting" ballots, even though there is little evidence to support the claim.
A federal judge paused the lawsuit earlier this month in an effort to allow state courts to weigh in. Kelly said she was unconcerned about any copycat lawsuits in Kansas.
"It’s a talking point, but it really doesn’t have much basis in truth," she said.