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With Kansas Hospitals Reeling, Governor Makes Second Push to Tame Coronavirus With Masks

Governor Kelly will again order all counties to require masks, but state law gives locals the chance to op out. (Photo by Stephan Bisaha, Kansas News Service)

Story by Celia Llopis-Jepsen

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is again pressing a statewide mask requirement to tame a coronavirus surge that has filled the state’s intensive care beds and left at least one major hospital caring for patients in hallways.

On Wednesday, Kelly issued her second statewide order. It gives county commissions one week to write their own local mask-wearing rules. If they don’t, her rules take effect.

The counties can still dodge any rules, for the same reason most have done so since her first mask order in July. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a law that made her emergency orders virtually toothless by letting local officials opt out.

Today, fewer than 40 of the state’s 105 counties have mask rules in force.

Kelly said she now thinks her orders will stick. She said Republican leaders offered little pushback when she approached them about issuing a second mask order. They even signaled to her that fewer counties would likely reverse them this time.

“It’s encouraging,” she said. “I take ‘not being against it’ as being supportive.”

Coronavirus has surged across Kansas, with about 36,000 new cases over the past two weeks. Hospitals have run out of rooms and staff. Two Kansas counties, Rawlins and Nemaha, were among the nation’s top 15 for highest number of cases per resident on Wednesday.

Desperate doctors have turned to neighboring states for help, but hospitals there often are full, too.

The number of coronavirus cases has shot up across the U.S. to more than 11.5 million known cases.

Most states have mask mandates, and some that hadn’t issued any before cracked down recently, including Iowa and North Dakota. In Kansas, rural areas like Garden City and Dodge City recently adopted mask orders after significant spikes and overwhelmed area hospitals.

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Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports on consumer health and education for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @celialj_LJ. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of Kansas Public Radio, KCUR, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio - focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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