Kansas’ top public health administrator said Thursday that the state has reached the point of being able to test 2% of its population for the novel coronavirus each month and plans to send a mobile lab to communities to help with testing.
Gov. Laura Kelly and Dr. Lee Norman, the state’s health secretary, unveiled what the Department of Health and Environment described as the state’s first formal coronavirus testing strategy. It calls for testing 60,000 people each month through the end of the year, mapping the capacity of labs to handle test samples and assisting with local drive-through sites.
But Norman acknowledged that Thursday’s announcement, coming a little more than three months after Kansas confirmed its first case, amounts to a declaration that health officials are now confident that they will have enough supplies to sustain current testing. He and Kelly had previously complained that the state was struggling to get supplies.
"It allows us to implement the strategy we’ve wanted to do basically all along," Norman said during a Statehouse news conference.
Norman and Kelly have long said their goal was to have Kansas test 2% of its population. The state has had nearly 124,000 tests since the pandemic began in early March, but 74% of them, or more than 92,000, have been done since May 1.
The White House told Kelly on April 20 that Kansas had capacity in state and private laboratories to test up to 6% of the population, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request. The documents from the White House were based on information compiled by the White House's coronavirus task force.
The state health department says Kansas had 10,812 coronavirus cases as of Wednesday, up 1.5%, or 162, since Monday. The state also reported 240 COVID-19-related deaths since the pandemic reached Kansas in early March, while Johns Hopkins University reports 242 deaths.
Kelly imposed a statewide stay-at-home order from March 30 through May 3, then started a phased reopening of the state’s economy. She lifted all statewide restrictions on May 26 in favor of allowing the state’s 105 counties to decide the rules.
Since then, Kansas has continued to see cases and deaths increase, but the state's statistics show a slowing down over time of increases in new cases, deaths and hospitalizations.
Norman said the state is finishing work on a van with a lab that can run coronavirus tests on samples. He said the plan is to send it first to Wyandotte County, an ongoing hotspot for cases, and Geary County, in northeast Kansas.