A small but growing number of places in Kansas are requiring people to wear masks indoors, and Gov. Laura Kelly took another stab Friday at persuading more of the state’s residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The spread of the more contagious delta variant across the state prompted the University of Kansas to reverse course and impose a mask mandate on its main campus in Lawrence and a satellite campus in Johnson County, in the Kansas City area. The university recently said it would strongly recommend masks but would not require them. The mandate takes effect Monday and applies whether someone is vaccinated or not.
“The variant has continued to spread nationally and is now putting significant strain on healthcare systems throughout Kansas and neighboring states,” said University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod.
Washburn University in Topeka also announced an indoor mask mandate Friday. Kansas State University announced last week that masks would be required indoors on its campuses.
Wyandotte County also is requiring most of its residents to wear masks indoors and on public transportation following a vote of its county commission Thursday night. And Manhattan, the northeast Kansas city that is home to the main Kansas State University campus, said staff and visitors will be required to wear masks inside city buildings.
Kelly released a 30-second public-service announcement from the state health department urging people to get vaccinated. The Democratic governor does not appear in the ad.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that 45.5% of the state’s 2.9 million residents had been fully vaccinated. The national figure was 49.9%, and five New England states had rates of more than 60%.
“We have to do everything we can to get the virus under control and protect our communities,” Kelly said in a statement.
Kelly released the new ad as U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids announced that she tested positive for COVID-19 despite being vaccinated. Davids represents the Kansas side of the Kansas City metropolitan area.
Numbers of new COVID-19 cases have risen steadily in Kansas over the past six weeks because of the delta variant. Kansas averaged 942 new COVID-19 cases per day for the seven days that ended Friday, state health department data showed. The seven-day average for new cases had dropped below 100 per day in June.
Delta variant cases have been confirmed in 85 of the state’s 105 counties, including 14 this week, with the total approaching 2,000 as of Friday.
At least 10 school districts will require at least some students and staff to wear masks indoors. The 10 districts serve more than 104,000 students, or 22% of the state’s total.
The Topeka school board voted unanimously Thursday night to impose a mask mandate, WIBW-TV reported.
In Wyandotte County, the mask mandate applies to residents above the age of 5, and the small towns of Bonner Springs and Edwardsville are exempt. They have only about 12,000 of the state’s 165,000 residents.