- Associated Press - Friday, September 25, 2020

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas reported Friday that it had more than 1,300 newly confirmed coronavirus cases over two days, and most of the biggest spikes over the past two weeks occurred in rural counties in the central and western parts of the state.

The state Department of Health and Environment said Kansas has had 56,592 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases, an increase of 1,366 or 2.5% from Wednesday. The state saw an added average of 615 confirmed cases a day during the seven days ending Friday, a figure second only to the average of 622 for the seven days ending Wednesday.

The health department also reported an additional 11 virus-related deaths over two days to bring the pandemic total to 632. Deaths continued to represent about 1.1% of the reported cases.

Of the 10 counties with the biggest increases in cases per 1,000 residents, eight had fewer than 7,200 residents, and all were in western or central Kansas.

The biggest spikes for the two weeks ending Friday were in Cheyenne County in the state’s far northwestern corner and Pawnee County in central Kansas. For both, the increase was 17.31 reported cases for every 1,000 residents, or six times the state’s rate of 2.82 new cases for every 1,000 residents.



Cheryl Hoberecht, Pawnee County’s health officer, said most of its positive cases came from an outbreak at the Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility. The prison on Wednesday reported 74 active COVID-19 cases among inmates and four involving staff.

Pawnee County’s surge in cases began after Aug. 12, when it still had only nine reported confirmed or probable cases among its 6,400 residents. It had 263 cases two weeks ago, and the state health department reported 374 as of Friday, an increase of 111.

“We’re getting community cases because staff members live in our community and they work out there, and that’s where they were exposed,” Hoberecht said.

The jump in cases in Cheyenne County, with about 2,700 residents, was from 10 cases to 56 over the past two weeks. Cheyenne County Hospital announced Monday on social media that 43 employees and residents tested positive at Cheyenne County village, a St. Francis nursing home.

One of the last two counties to report a confirmed or probable case, Rawlins County in northwest Kansas, saw the number jump from just two cases two weeks ago to 34 as of Friday. The county has about 2,500 residents, so that’s an increase of 12.65 cases per 1,000 people.

Grant County, with a population of almost 7,200, saw its cases increase from 150 two weeks ago to 235 as of Friday. That’s an increase of 85, or 11.89 cases per 1,000 residents.

Kevin Shapland, a Grant County commissioner and local farmer, said he doesn’t know where the cases are coming from. But he’s “not a mask wearer” unless a local business he visits requires him to wear one.

“Out here there’s a little more air, you can separate and go about your way. We have a lot of people that work outside and they can distance from each other and so I think it’s easier for them not to wear one,” Shapland said.

He also questioned whether masks protect people from the virus. Public health officials, including the head of the state health department, have said repeatedly that wearing masks is crucial to stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

“There’s doctors that say you need to wear one, and there’s doctors that say you’ll get these problems if you do wear one,” Shapland said. “I think the biggest problem is do we really have any concrete facts to base whether the masks work or not?”

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Andy Tsubasa Field is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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