How is Kansas doing in its battle against the novel coronavirus?
There are many ways to think about this question, but for the sake of simplicity and easy comparison with other states, let’s look at statistics collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This information tracks with that reported by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, as of Friday morning.
The CDC reports 50,870 total cases in Kansas since the beginning of the pandemic, which translates to 1,747 cases per 100,000 residents of the state. By the latter metric, we’re better off than 29 states and territories, but worse off than 30 (including Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana and Minnesota).
The CDC also reports 586 deaths for our state, which can be seen as 20 deaths per 100,000 residents. That suggests we’re better off than 42 states and territories, but worse off than 17.
Like most information connected with the pandemic, this set of numbers can be looked at in two ways. On one hand, we have avoided massive outbreaks and have seen a relatively low number of fatal outcomes. On the other, we could have seen fewer cases overall if we had enacted a truly statewide, coordinated response.
Gov. Laura Kelly and KDHE Secretary Lee Norman had just such a strategy until Republican lawmakers sensed an opportunity to make public health a political issue.
By kneecapping the governor’s emergency powers and by quibbling with Norman, legislative leaders effectively banned Kansas from tackling COVID-19 as one state and with one approach. Predictably, cases across the state have surged since then, although deaths have advanced at a far more modest pace.
And at every point that Kelly has urged a whole-state approach, such as the reopening of schools, she has been met with a barrage of barely disguised misogyny and contempt from those who prioritize commerce over health and safety.
Because this is the other takeaway from the numbers mentioned above.
Things could get worse in Kansas. Much, much worse.
There is no magical protection for those of us living in the Sunflower state. Kelly’s initial actions bent the curve, but the pandemic is far from over. As winter approaches, we could see sickness and mortality the likes of which we can barely imagine.
Ask the 42 states and territories with higher death rates per 100,000. Ask the 29 states and territories with more cases per 100,000.
This isn’t over. Indeed, for Kansas, it may have barely begun.