WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The number of coronavirus variants in Kansas has risen sharply, even as parents in some schools push to drop masking requirements and vaccine appointments go unfilled.
In the past week, the state had a 32% increase in the total number of confirmed variant coronavirus cases as all five variants of concern have now been identified in the state, The Wichita Eagle reports.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 175 total variant cases on Monday, up from 133 one week ago. Most of the increase was due to 35 new cases of the variant strain first identified in the United Kingdom.
Despite the spread, more parents are challenging mask requirements in schools, with the Mulvane district becoming the latest in the Wichita area to reject a complaint about school rules for COVID-19 control.
Parents are raising the challenges under a new state law that requires school boards to use the least restrictive means possible to control the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
In rejecting the complaint, school board president Jeff Ellis criticized the new law, which also requires districts to hold a hearing within 72 hours of a complaint being filed. He said it has “continued to divide the community, divide teachers, divide students, divide board members.”
About a dozen parents and students who signed on to the complaint were present in the audience. Most went unmasked in defiance of the district rules.
“They’re not actually protecting the kids from anything as far as I’m concerned,” said parent Lacy Collins. “To actually protect yourself from the small particles of COVID you’d have to wear a HazMat suit or something. I just don’t feel like there’s any purpose.”
It was the third loss in a row for former Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau, who has emerged in recent weeks as a leading opponent of masks in schools countywide. He’s been shot down twice in Valley Center where he brought a complaint as a parent himself and then represented another parent who filed her own complaint but couldn’t attend her hearing.
The challenges come as appointments for vaccines begin to go unfilled, even though state data shows that just 36.4% of residents have been vaccinated with at least one dose as of Monday.
The health department in Johnson County, which is the state's largest county, said it plans to shift away from mass vaccination clinics where thousands of people receive the COVID-19 vaccine in a single day.
“We are going to be working with churches, going to be working with other organizations in the community and ensuring that those who need to be vaccinated are vaccinated. We are asking schools, junior colleges, colleges,” Dr. Sanmi Areola, Director of the Johnson County Health Department, said during a Facebook Live Monday afternoon.