Kansas has relaxed its guidelines on coronavirus testing so that residents who don’t have a fever but who are showing other symptoms can be tested, Governor Laura Kelly announced Tuesday.
Kelly’s announcement came as the state prison system saw the coronavirus spread to a third facility and the number of confirmed cases among staff and inmates top 100.
The number of people in Kansas infected with the virus rose by 39 to 2,025 on Tuesday – a 2% bump representing the state’s lowest growth rate in infections since March 12.
The number of COVID-19-related deaths increased 7%, up seven to 107.
Kansas has had among the the lowest testing rates of any state, and officials have complained of struggling to find supplies.
On Tuesday, the state was testing 6.56 people per 1,000 residents, compared to 12.30 nationally, based on numbers compiled by The COVID Tracking Project, a website operated by journalists and analysts.
The state previously had recommended that people not be tested unless they were running a fever while also showing two symptoms, such as a cough and shortness of breath.
Expanded testing is key for Kelly and public health officials in determining how and when to reopen the state’s economy.
Kelly issued a stay-at-home order for all 2.9 million of the state’s residents that took effect March 30, and she’s under increasing pressure from the Republican-controlled Legislature to outline a plan for lifting the restrictions.
She said she plans to announce her plan next week but that the state must be able to do enough testing to find and isolate infected people then trace their contacts.
“Those two items need to be solidly in place before we can actually think about opening the doors,” Kelly said during her daily coronavirus news conference.
Steps taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus have damaged the economy, and Kansas now faces a $653 million shortfall in its budget for the 2021 fiscal year that begins in July.
Kelly said Tuesday that spending on public schools is essential and that she will work to avoid cutting it.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks.
For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
Prisons nationally have been hit hard by the virus, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has filed a lawsuit seeking the release of vulnerable inmates.
Kelly has said efforts are underway to identify inmates who are close to finishing their sentences and could be released, but concrete steps have yet to be announced.
Almost all of the prison’s confirmed cases are at the Lansing Correctional Facility outside Kansas City, where 54 staff – about 13% of the prison’s workforce – and 46 inmates are infected.
An inmate at a work-release facility in Wichita tested positive earlier this month, and the Department of Corrections said a staffer at the state’s only prison for women in Topeka tested positive Monday.
Another 20 Lansing-based inmates who may have been exposed but aren’t showing symptoms are quarantined, said Rebecca Witte, a department spokeswoman.
Witte said inmates at the Topeka prison and one in Hutchinson are making cloth masks, and all inmates and corrections staff have been issued two each.