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Kansas to spend bulk of federal virus aid on education

Kansas anticipates getting at least $1.1 billion from the latest federal coronavirus relief package and expects to spend about half of it on K-12 schools, higher education, and grants for child care, state data shows.

About $168 million is earmarked for testing, tracing, and mitigation, and another $26 million is planned for vaccine distribution, according to data provided by J.G. Scott, director of the Kansas Legislative Research Department. How the money is spent is dictated by federal law.

“The pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for all of us, but these funds are a step in the right direction by reinvesting in our state’s foundation to rebuild a healthier, stronger Kansas,” said Gov. Laura Kelly in a news release.

The new funding, which follows $1.03 billion in federal aid received last year arrived as Kansas worked to speed up vaccinations. Kelly received her second dose Wednesday and used the occasion to urge continued caution, saying “we all must remain vigilant.”

This week, the state moved beyond just vaccinating health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. The second phase includes those 65 and older, prisoners, and essential workers such as police and teachers, although individual counties get to decide who goes first within that group. Demand has been strong and who goes first has proved controversial.

In Topeka, members of the Stormont Vail Health board and its fundraising board were allowed to receive vaccinations during the first phase, The Kansas News Service reported. Spokesman Matt Lara said board members received the shots because they govern the hospital and its daily operations, although he stressed that workers who see patients were vaccinated first.

The good news is that hospital capacity and patient transfer times have been improving, said Dr. Richard Watson, of Cheyenne Mountain Software, whose software was used to help manage the transfers, The Wichita Eagle reports.

One trouble spot has been Wichita, where overall COVID-19 patient numbers are down but ICUs remain under strain.

“I think this is because they ended up taking a lot more of the high-acuity patients, and they’ve just hung on longer in the system,” Watson said. “We’re still depending on the region to continue to utilize good practices to mitigate that.”

As numbers improve, the Shawnee County Health Department decided to loosen some COVID-19 restrictions and is allowing organized sports to practice and play games; high school athletics are not subject to this health order. The previous health order only allowed organized sports teams to practice, The Topeka Capital-Journal reports.

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