TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly responded to mounting staff shortages at Kansas hospitals and nursing homes Thursday by issuing a new COVID-19 disaster emergency declaration and companion executive orders temporarily suspending laws and regulations on health care providers.
The disaster declaration and supplemental orders were tied to evidence of a significant upswing in coronavirus cases following the winter holidays and spread of delta and omicron variants of coronavirus. Thirteen percent of Kansas’ cases during the pandemic emerged in the past month. Medical professionals in Kansas anticipate the state’s COVID-19 numbers to worsen through January and into early February.
“Just as I did at the start of the pandemic, today I am again issuing orders to provide our hospitals and nursing homes with the necessary staffing flexibility to keep the residents, patients and staff safe,” Kelly said.
On Wednesday, Kansas hospital and public health leaders urged Kelly to take administrative action due to the wave of health workers sidelined by COVID-19 and the influx of seriously ill patients.
Under current state law, the governor’s disaster declaration could stand for 15 days. The Kansas Legislature convenes Monday to begin the 2022 session, and could take up new pandemic bills. Kelly said she would work with the House and Senate “to pass legislation to extend my executive orders through the month of March.”
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, a Republican from Olathe, said the governor’s latest COVID-19 action should provide “temporary and necessary relief and flexibility” to a health system in the state stressed by staffing shortages and increased hospitalizations. He said the Kansas House would continue to support frontline health workers.
“However,” Ryckman said, “we do not and will not support shutting down businesses and government mandates. If the governor attempts to go beyond reducing burdensome regulations for the health care system, we will oppose those measures.”
The campaign of Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who is seeking the Republican Party’s nomination for governor in August, said on social media the Legislature should make certain Kelly didn’t make unnecessary use of emergency powers. Kelly is seeking re-election in 2022, and likely would face Schmidt in the November general election.
“The Legislature must exercise strict oversight of her use of emergency powers this time to ensure her actions remain sensible, narrowly tailored and tightly limited,” Schmidt said. “Better for the Legislature and governor to work together this time around.”
Schmidt was critical of Kelly’s early-pandemic executive orders limiting mass gatherings at churches, closing certain businesses and shifting schools to online instruction. He disparaged the governor’s imposition of statewide mask mandates and stay-at-home orders.
Under executive orders 22-01 and 22-02, Kelly temporarily suspended restrictions and requirements governing deliver of medical services and suspended licensure, certification and registration requirements for employees and operators of adult care homes in Kansas.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported Wednesday that during the past month Kansas recorded increases of 71,900 cases, 1,240 hospitalizations and 306 deaths associated with COVID-19.
Since KDHE began publicly reporting pandemic statistics in early 2020, Kansas has recorded 549,700 cases, 17,214 hospitalizations and 7,059 fatalities. Nearly one-fifth of the state’s 2.9 million residents have contracted COVID-19 during that period.
Kelly has consistently endorsed vaccination programs embraced by federal, state and local public health officials designed to limit medical complications of COVID-19.
“I urge all Kansans to do their part by getting vaccinated and boosted, which will both help prevent COVID-19 transmissions and more severe cases that require hospitalization, and also help in maintaining our critical infrastructure and economy intact,” the governor said.
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