TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer need to wear masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings, effective immediately, Gov. Laura Kelly announced Thursday.
The state will follow guidance announced Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said people who are fully vaccinated could stop wearing masks and social distancing outdoors in crowds. Masks also will not be necessary in indoor spaces, except for settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.
“This announcement is welcome news, and a testament to the sacrifices Kansans have made over the last year," Kelly said in a statement. "I can think of no better reason for all Kansans to get vaccinated. The sooner we are vaccinated —- the sooner we get back to normal.”
The mask change came a day after Kelly said Kansas will begin offering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to children 12 and older, which also follows new guidance from federal officials. Previously, only those 16 and older could be vaccinated.
“Health experts’ thorough, deliberate review process demonstrates that safety continues to be the number one priority in vaccine approval – and my administration is confident that opening the vaccine to young Kansans is the right move,” Kelly said.
Health officials and hospitals in some counties, including Johnson, Sedgwick, Douglas, Wyandotte and Shawnee, began providing the shots for younger people on Thursday. Those under 18 need parental permission to be vaccinated. Children will be given the same amount of the Pfizer vaccine as adults, in two shots three weeks apart.
Dr. Steve Lauer, a pediatrician with the University of Kansas Health System, said during a briefing Wednesday that making millions more people eligible for vaccinations will help control the spread of the coronavirus for everyone.
“So it’s as much to control the disease across our population as for those kids," Lauer said. "The benefit is that it is going to help us get back to normal more quickly, help our kids get back to school and all the activities they need to be involved in.”
The Kansas Health Department reported that 39.7% of all Kansans have received at least one dose of a vaccine as of Wednesday. The state has confirmed 311,338 COVID-19 cases and 5,029 deaths since the pandemic began.