© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

White House Task Force Says 'Now Is The Moment' For Kansas To Stop COVID-19 Spread

Jodi Fortino
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, held a roundtable discussion with local health officials and Gov. Laura Kelly at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, spoke Saturday with local health officials and Gov. Laura Kelly about what more needs to be done in the state to halt the spread of the virus.

White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx says Kansas is at a turning point to get the state's positivity rate under control.

Birx traveled to the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, as a part of a multi-state tour to talk with governors and health officials about local efforts to combat COVID-19.

She said the state, specifically Wyandotte, Johnson and Douglas Counties, is seeing a spike in community spread of the virus. Birx said Kansas is currently resting at a 9.9% test positivity rate, putting it just underneath the red zone of cases.

“Now is the moment for every Kansas to do these common-sense things. I know they may be inconvenient, but they are common sense. We all can do this together and prevent this spread,” said Birx.

Gov. Kelly issued a statewide order last month requiring face masks to be worn in public, but many counties opted out of the mandate. But with cases on the rise across Kansas, Dr. Birx emphasized the importance of wearing a mask in both indoor and outdoor public places.

She also recommended avoiding bars, indoor dining, and group gatherings.

“You can't tell who's infected any longer. The spread is asymptomatic. I know we all want to believe our family members are not positive, but they are,” said Birx.

Southern states following these guidelines have been successful in lowering their high positivity rates, according to Birx.

Birx says Kansas needs to focus on minimizing the spread of the virus in rural communities, so it doesn’t see a similar outbreak to the ones in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana.

“The level of asymptomatic spread that occurred before people started to be hospitalized was so widespread, and the hospitals in these rural communities quickly were full. That's what we're trying to prevent here in the Heartland,” said Birx.

As schools prepare to reopen across the state, Birx says counties with fewer cases should be used as a guide on how to reopen safely.

Birx says getting the number of cases under control in the state is the key for teachers and students to be able to return to classes.

“I don't think right now most of the spread that you're seeing is happening in the school. It's people being infected in the community and bringing it into the school and infecting other children,” says Birx. “We can get everyone back to school if we stop this community spread.”

She also met with university leaders and says they talked about the use of laboratory equipment to test students as they go back to campus.

Birx says being able to test 10,000 samples a day puts schools in the range of being able to do routine surveillance on campuses to find the asymptomatic spread before it reaches the community.

With the football season beginning next month, Birx also had a message for Chiefs fans wanting to watch their team at the stadium.

“If you want to have fans in the stands, get your case rates down,” said Birx.

Editor's Note: The story was updated to clarify a number provided by Dr. Birx.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make non-profit journalism available for everyone.