TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas is likely to have pockets of a new, contagious variant of coronavirus first identified in the UK and public health officials believe this could become the dominant strain on the state, the state health department head said Tuesday.
Dr. Lee Norman also said winter weather in the central and eastern United States caused a “brief speed boost” in the second phase of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Norman said the federal government’s delivery of some vaccine doses had been delayed by a few days, and sub-zero temperatures caused the Shawnee County health department in northeast Kansas to cancel a vaccination clinic.
The first case of the UK variant of coronavirus recorded in Kansas was in Ellis County earlier this month and infected a Fort Hays State University sports student “who was never particularly ill,” Norman said. The state health department said Monday that a second case had been identified in Sedgwick County, home of Wichita, and Norman said the infected person was a “young man” who had traveled from the state.
Virus variant from Great Britain identified in Kansas
Public health officials said the appearance of the coronavirus variant in most states means people cannot protect themselves from wearing masks, social distancing and other precautions. Norman said the Ellis County in northwest Kansas and Sedgwick County in southern Kansas cases are unrelated.
“We have a feeling it’s becoming a dominant strain because it’s more contagious,” Norman said during an online briefing with health care officials at the University of Kansas. “I am sure there will be pockets of expansion in the local regions.”
The state identifies variants of coronavirus through genetic testing, and Norman said the state health department is now doing this for medical providers “whenever we are asked.”
Meanwhile, Kansas is still grappling with the economic impact of the pandemic, and Governor Laura Kelly said Tuesday the state will receive $ 200 million to help people under the latest coronavirus law approved in December struggling to pay their rent and utility bills. The city of Wichita plans to start filing applications for its residents starting February 22nd, and the state’s Housing Resources Corporation will start receiving applications from people outside of Wichita starting March 15th.
A UK study found that a new variant can be up to 70% more deadly
In Kansas, the number of new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases has decreased in the past few weeks. The state recorded an average of 641 new cases per day in the seven days that ended Monday. According to the Ministry of Health and the Environment, this is the lowest value since the beginning of October. The state recorded an average of 30 additional COVID-19 deaths per day over the same period.
The state health department has reported more than 287,000 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases since the pandemic hit Kansas in early March 2020, or nearly one in ten of the state’s 2.9 million residents. The state has reported more than 4,400 deaths, or one for every 661 residents.
The state health department reports that as of Monday, nearly 292,000 Kansas residents, or 10% of the population, had received at least the first of two required doses of vaccine. Norman has repeatedly said that the number of shots fired is actually higher than reported due to the delay in reporting that the state is working to end.
The state launched its second vaccination phase last month. It includes people over the age of 65 as well as teachers, business critical workers and people in group situations, including prison inmates. That’s up to 1 million people, and Governor Laura Kelly and the health department have been repeatedly criticized for moving too slowly.
Shawnee County’s Health Department in Topeka also pointed out the possibility of causing blackouts by canceling its clinic in an older exhibition building near the city’s largest arena and convention center. However, Evergy, Topeka’s electricity company, later announced that blackouts were limiting power outages, but demand for its system had been suspended Tuesday morning.
Spokesman Craig Barnes said the county health department will open its scheduled vaccination clinic three hours early on Thursday so people who had planned to take pictures on Tuesday could still get them.
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