Kansans urged to stay vigilant against virus despite vaccine
LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — Gov. Laura Kelly and the Kansas’ top health official said Tuesday they are relieved the state has begun distributing a coronavirus vaccine but they stressed that the public still needs to adhere to social distancing and other precautions for several more months.
The Ascension Via Christi health care system administered the first doses of the vaccine to 115 physicians and employees at its St. Francis hospital on Monday. Vaccinating health care workers will speed up this week, but it likely won’t be an option for the general public until late spring or early summer, Kelly said.
“I am relieved that we are really truly turning the corner now on this virus,” Kelly said during a virtual meeting with University of Kansas Medical Center officials.
Long-term care residents will get the vaccine after health care workers, and state officials are working with advisers to determine subsequent vaccinations — a process that should be completed by the end of this week or the beginning of next, Kelly said.
When asked about the possible impact of the vaccine on getting students back into classrooms full time, Kelly said local school districts already have plans that allow for the return of students when positivity rates are low enough. She said the vaccine will make “a huge difference” when it is widely distributed, but she doesn’t expect that effect to be seen until the beginning of the next school year at the earliest.
Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, echoed Kelly’s warning for the public to continue wearing masks, socially distance and not hold large gatherings, especially through the winter holidays. He expects the impact on COVID-19 cases from the holidays will linger into mid-January.
“We cannot let our guard down until we have (a) significantly higher number of people who are immunized,” he said.
Shawnee County Health Officer Gianfranco Pezzino cited his concern about an easing of safety protocols when he resigned in frustration in the middle of a meeting Monday. Pezzino had already said he would not renew his contract at the end of the year, but he explained that he was resigning immediately after commissioners changed a health order he had recommended.
Pezzino said he couldn’t “in full conscience” continue to work with the commissioners after they changed the health order to allow bars and restaurants to close at 10 p.m., rather than 9 p.m. They also allowed organized sports outside of schools to practice with 10 or fewer participants.
“It is clear from the events today as well as many instances in the past months when you repeatedly questioned and undermined my decisions and advice that there are deep differences in ethics, values and strategies between this board and myself,” he said, WIBW reported.
Commissioner Aaron Mays said he was troubled by Pezzino’s statements.
“We have consistently supported his measures that he has recommended to us,” Mays said. “The spirit of the order is still in place. We made two very small changes, in my opinion.”
The commissioners said in a statement after the meeting that they were assessing the impact of Pezzino’s immediate resignation.
Kansas reported 190,018 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Monday and averaged 2,285 new confirmed and probable cases a day over the seven days that ended Monday. The state also reported 37 more COVID-19 deaths since Friday, raising its pandemic death toll to 2,109. The state also reported 5,895 hospitalizations as of Monday, which was a net increase of 95 since Friday.