COVID deaths in Kansas top 7,000; county mulls new mask rule

December 29, 2021 GMT

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas reported Wednesday that it has seen more than 7,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and health officials in one of Kansas’ most populous counties are talking again about the possibility of imposing a local mask mandate only days after one for children expired.

Gov. Laura Kelly immediately ordered flags to be flown at half-staff until sundown Friday, just as she has every time Kansas has reported another 1,000 deaths.

Kelly’s action and the interest in a new mask mandate in Douglas County, home to the main University of Kansas campus, come as the state continues to see relatively high numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The delta variant has spread across the state, and 45 cases of the new omicron variant have been reported in 13 of the state’s 105 counties, including three cases in Douglas County. The state reported 20 new omicron cases since Monday.

Meanwhile, a 46-year-old officer for the North Newton Police Department in south-central Kansas has died from complications after battling COVID-19. The state’s total number of COVID-19 deaths is approaching 7,000, according to state Department of Health and Environment data.

In Douglas County, health department Director Dan Partridge told the Lawrence Journal-World that he, the county administrator and the CEO of the local health system plan to meet next week to hear from the county’s public health officer and other health professionals. He said the question of imposing a new mask mandate is sure to come up.

The elected Douglas County Commission would decide whether to impose the mandate. Partridge said the earliest that health officials would present a recommendation would be Jan. 12.

The county kept a requirement that children ages 2 through 11 wear masks in public spaces in place until Dec. 22.

State health department data showed that Kansas averaged 2,003 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases a day for the seven days ending Wednesday, its highest seven-day average since Jan. 14. The state also averaged 34 new hospitalizations and seven new deaths a day during the seven days ending Wednesday.

A news release from the city of North Newton said police Officer Brian Rousseau died Tuesday. He had been a patrol officer since 2018 in the community of about 1,800 residents about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Wichita. He previously worked 18 years with the neighboring Newton Police Department.

North Newton Police Chief Randy Jordan called Rousseau “a terrific officer and a terrific person.” He is survived by his wife and two children.