Kansas to spend bulk of federal virus aid on education | News, Sports, Jobs

photo by: Associated Press

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly discusses the COVID-19 pandemic during a Statehouse news conference, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA — 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.

In Lawrence, a hospital spokeswoman said LMH Health has taken a different approach. Amy Northrop, director of community relations for LMH, said the hospital has taken no special actions to offer the vaccine to members of the hospital’s board of trustees or the hospital’s endowment foundation board. She said those board members also are not considered employees of the hospital, and thus were not eligible to receive vaccinations that have been set aside for employees of LMH Health.

However, Northrop also said it was possible that some board members had received the vaccination because in their private lives they were eligible under one of the provisions outlined in the phase 1 vaccination plan approved by the state. For instance, some of the board members are healthcare professionals, which would have qualified them under the phase 1 vaccination plan.

Northrop also provided further details about how the hospital has vaccinated its employees. She said all members of the LMH staff, regardless of the position they hold are eligible for the vaccinations.

“Vaccine is available to all LMH Health staff, including our contracted employees,” Northrop said via email.

In other hospital related news, state officials say they are seeing some positive trends with patient numbers. 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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