COVID-19 update: Almost 22,000 cases, and 300 deaths in Kansas at the time of this writing. Kansas has seen a spike in cases, but death rates are not increasing proportionally. KDHE often speaks of clusters occurring around the state. A telephone call to KDHE revealed they count two cases as a cluster. My definition of a cluster certainly would be more than two. Clusters have occurred in meat packing plants and prison facilities. We still need to protect our vulnerable. If you feel you need to wear a mask to protect yourself or someone else, please do so.

Governor Kelly issued EO 2020-52, which requires the wearing of facemasks in most indoor and many outdoor public places. EO 2020-52 has created more confusion than clarity. HB 2016 which fundamentally changed numerous authorities related to the issuance and enforcement of emergency orders. The Legislature was concerned about the constitutional rights of Kansans being violated. The Legislature passed the final authority down to county commissioners in local counties. In other words, individual counties by action of their county commissioners can issue an order that is less stringent or adopt the guidelines of EO 2020-52, which mandates wearing of a mask. Individual counties can opt out of the mask order. If your county opts out the EO is not in effect in that county.

To date 92 out of 105 Kansas counties have opted out of the mandatory mask order by Governor Kelly. Local elected officials seemed to know what is best for their areas and make me think how out-of-touch our leadership is when it comes to listening to the “pulse” of the people. This has created serious confusion in many counties. Keep in mind that Kansas has 105 counties with each one having the authority to change the Governor’s EO. The Legislature realized that public health safety was an important issue, but wanted to put the ultimate responsibility in the hands of a local elected official, such as county commissioners.

Some local cities have issued mandatory mask wearing. Private businesses can require a mask prior to entering a store. There are a few exceptions such as children younger than 5, mental health conditions, medical conditions, job safety people who are hard hearing and need to read lips.

Governor Kelly recently tried to delay the opening of Kansas schools until Sept. 9, again HB 2016 put that decision into the hands of Kansas Board of Education (KSBOE). Decisions are best made at the local level and KSBOE just recently came out with a nearly 1,100-page document “Navigating Change in 2020” on school reopening. A formal decision to delay or not will be made by the upcoming 10 member KSBOE Board meeting this coming week.

The safety of our children is very important, but children’s needs for education, socialization and the many other services they receive through our schools are vital. Unfortunately for many children, our schools provide emotional stability and nutritional meals they do not always receive at home. Schools are essential. Schools need to be open.

I have received calls from many parents who are both working to make ends meet. Additional costs for child care is a big issue, especially for low income parents. Online learning is a great tool, but not all students do well with online lessons, especially those at risk. If you add in the broadband issues in our rural areas this creates multiple learning problems for students. Young students develop a strong bond with their teachers and learning is best if a teacher is there in a face-to-face instructional environment. I know teachers have concern for their personal safety, but they are public servants and need to join the ranks of policemen, fire fighters, first responders and even grocery clerks who have been exposing themselves for the past four months.

I have received a few calls from self-employed business owners who are struggling making ends meet stating the schools should be saving money since they have been closed. There is no simple answer and we are going through a lot of “firsts” in 2020. No state fair, athletics and sports at risk. Remember we need to run with COVID-19 not from it. We will get our “herd immunity” and maybe even a vaccine later in the year. Please get out and vote.

We will have some very difficult decisions and no doubt serious budget cutting this next session. Kansans simply cannot allow COVID-19 to devastate our economy and well being. COVID-19 cases will probably continue to increase as we get out more, remember my “herd immunity” concept that have been in many prior newsletters. Kansans need to run with COVID-19, not from it.

Schools will need to open in some fashion this fall. Businesses have been innovative in opening back up. I hope I never see “non-essential” applied to any business again. Every business is essential to someone.

Social distancing and hand washing is a great prevention. A vaccine may help us gain more confidence. As your elected official, I will continue to oppose EOs and bills that infringe on our constitutional rights. I will never vote to “Defund Police.” Pray for me to have wisdom to make the best decision for fellow Kansans. Keep our faith in God.

 

State Rep. Doug Blex, R-Independence, represents most of rural Cowley County and all of Chautauqua County. He can be reached at (785) 296-5863 or doug.blex@house.ks.gov.

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