TOPEKA (KSNT) — If you want to know where to mask up in Kansas, it’s as simple as looking at a chart and finding the “red” and “orange” areas, which indicate parts of the state where the virus is spreading rapidly.
Dr. Marci Nielsen, Chief Advisor of Vaccine Distribution, told Kansas Capitol Bureau Thursday about 80% of Kansas is covered in “red” and “orange” areas that show respectively “high” or “substantial” spread. According to Nielsen, these are the areas where people are encouraged to wear a mask indoors, even if they’re fully vaccinated, and are based on the CDC tracking “levels of transmission” in states across the country.
“We’re not ever wanting to go back to a time when schools can’t be open, and businesses can’t be serving their customers,” Nielsen said. “That’s the reason why masking, particularly if your community has a lot of cases, is so important.”
The state is hoping to reduce the spread of coronavirus and the highly contagious Delta variant, which has become the dominant variant in the state. Nielsen said a low amount of vaccinations may be to blame.
“We’ve got about half of the stat that is choosing not to get vaccinated, and now we all are needing to mask up, while we’re inside if we want to stay safe,” Dr. Nielsen said.
The state is pushing forward in efforts to get more people vaccinated, and offering testing. Dr. Nielsen said taking on the new guidance is now a “community responsibility,” hoping people decide to use the necessary precautions to stay safe. Governor Laura Kelly exercised her authority over state agencies, announcing in a press conference Wednesday that all state employees and people entering state buildings where cases are on the rise, will need to wear a mask starting Monday, August 2.
While the governor noted that she’s leaving it up to counties and local officials to decide what happens in their areas, statewide mask mandates or mandates at the county level can only be put in place without an emergency order in effect. They can only issue recommendations, or guidance, that people can use to stay safe.
After lawmakers limited the executive branch’s power this past year with new legislation, the governor can issue an emergency order that lasts about 15 days. Otherwise, if it extends any longer, she would need to seek legislative approval.
Leaders of the Legislative Coordinating Council allowed the last emergency declaration to expire back in June, after canceling their meeting. There’s no sign of another order being put in place.
Local power over mask guidance also remains up in the air as Kansas Supreme Court judges are expected to weigh the constitutionality of SB 40, a bipartisan law passed by the Kansas legislature, which requires school boards to hold a meeting over complaints from parents within 72 hours.
In the judge’s ruling, he said the law “tips the scales of justice” with the expedited constraints to make a decision, which could leave the defendant without a judicial determination if the deadline is not able to be met. Therefore, the judge said it “eliminates the role of the judiciary” in deciding its cases, suggesting the legislative branch has infringed on the judicial branch’s powers.
However, in Schmidt’s filings, he noted that the court’s ruling was causing “unnecessary and disruptive confusion,” in part because many provisions of the law were not at issue in the case, but it appears the court ruling “may have invalidated them.”