Gov. Laura Kelly said Monday that consistently high COVID-19 case counts concern her, saying she believes residents didn’t heed her call that Kansas was at a "make it or break it" moment for fighting the pandemic.
The state reported 1,674 new cases since Friday. Four deaths were added to the total as well, bringing the overall number to 600.
"Weeks ago ... I said Kansas was at a make it or break it moment in our virus mitigation efforts," Kelly said. "Looking at the numbers from last week, it does not seem like we made it."
But the governor said she doesn’t believe recalling lawmakers to develop a long-term emergency response plan is the answer, while also noting that working with the State Finance Council to come up with a new version of the statewide mask mandate wasn’t realistic.
Kelly instead said she wanted to work with an interim committee charged with formulating changes to the state’s emergency response statute as a way of developing a more sustainable framework for its COVID-19 response.
The Special Committee on the Kansas Emergency Management Act, which reconvenes Tuesday, has been reviewing House Bill 2016, legislation passed in June that served as a compromise between legislators and the governor.
HB 2016 was widely regarded as a temporary measure, requiring State Finance Council approval for any new emergency declarations and giving counties the ability to opt out of statewide mandates, including requirements that residents wear masks.
But Kelly has bristled at ways in which the legislation has tied her hands.
"Because we failed to implement a coherent and coordinated mask policy, because we have taken an ineffective patchwork approach to our COVID-19 response, cases and deaths continue to rise," she said.
Working with lawmakers on the special committee, she said, would be a way of coming up with a better solution. Kelly’s chief of staff, Will Lawrence, is set to testify before the panel Tuesday.
And while the aim of the committee is to provide legislators with some direction when they return to session in January, Kelly said their recommendations for an improved pandemic response could be informally implemented in the meantime.
"If they would come up with the intent to do things differently, I think we could appeal to folks to go with the intended legislation and ask our counties to start operating under what is intended," Kelly said. "I think that is the one approach we could take rather than waiting for it to become statutory language."
But, in the meantime, Kelly said residents should continue to wear masks, regardless of whether they live in a county with a mandate.
"Every Kansan, no matter where they live, should wear a mask when they’re in a public place," she said.