Kansas Governor Laura Kelly again issued a disaster declaration on Jan. 6 — the first such since the previous state of emergency was allowed to expire on June 15 of last year.

Citing a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, Kelly issued two executive orders 22-01 and 22-02, both designed to ease purported strains on the state’s medical system. 

The first would allow certain types of medical professionals — such as physician’s assistants or respiratory therapists — to provide care at their facilities without direct oversight by a physician, and allow RNs and LPNs whose license has lapsed or who have been inactive in the last five years to provide services as well. It would also, among other things, allow students who are studying to be a medical professional to provide services as well.

The second is related to skilled nursing facilities and provides for the extension of renewals and temporary licenses for staff at those providers.

The declaration is for 15 days and is subject to legislative review, something Kelly noted in a release.

“Just as I did at the start of the pandemic, today I am again issuing orders to provide our hospitals and nursing homes with the necessary staffing flexibility to keep the residents, patients, and staff safe,” Governor Kelly said. “This disaster declaration provides a 15-day solution to give our front-line health care workers the support they need as they battle this COVID-19 surge. This action is temporary until the legislature returns, at which I time I will work with them to pass legislation to extend my executive orders through the month of March.”

The legislature is scheduled to return to session on Jan. 10.

Kelly stopped short of issuing any shutdowns or restrictions related to the latest wave of COVID, which would likely be non-starters with the legislature.

Political reaction to disaster declaration

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt cautioned Kelly against overreach.

“Governor Kelly today declared a new State of Disaster Emergency in Kansas related to COVID-19,” Schmidt said in a social media statement. “The Legislature must exercise strict oversight of her use of emergency powers this time to ensure her actions remain sensible, narrowly tailored, and tightly limited. 

“The governor’s use of emergency powers must not again be allowed to get out of hand as happened earlier in the pandemic when she used emergency decrees to order churches, businesses, and schools closed and to impose mask mandates, gathering limitations and stay-at-home orders on Kansans. Better for the legislature and governor to work together this time around. It is good the legislature reconvenes on Monday and will be in session to maintain a watchful eye.”

Kansas Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman echoed Schmidt’s concerns.

“We have been advised of the staffing shortages and increased hospitalizations that our healthcare system is currently facing and believe this order may provide some temporary and necessary relief and flexibility,” Ryckman said in a statement. “We support the dedicated workers on the frontlines of the healthcare system, however, we do not and will not support shutting down businesses or government mandates. If the Governor attempts to go beyond reducing burdensome regulations for the healthcare system, we will oppose those measures.”

Becoming seasonal?

The current wave of COVID cases — which is blamed for hospital staffing shortages — is just the latest of several such “surges” over the last two years.

While, in Kansas at least, the Delta variant seems to remain most prevalent, the more infectious Omicron variant seems to be spreading. However, so far, it appears that most Omicron cases are relatively mild, compared to Delta.

As of Dec. 9, 2021, the US was averaging about 120,000 new cases a day, according to John’s Hopkins University.

According to a CNN story from Dec. 10 of last year, Dr. Donald Burke, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, “seasonality is real.”

One study by researchers in Spain, published in October in the journal Nature Computational Science, classifies Covid-19 as a “seasonal low-temperature infection,” CNN reported and two other papers by Burke and colleague Dr. Hawre Jalal, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, describe the seasonal pattern of the pandemic’s waves and suggest the patterns may repeat in years to follow. While neither paper has yet been peer-reviewed, they have been posted online to the server medrxiv.org in July and November.

“Our modeling of this suggests that the rhythm of the future epidemics will be seasonal, but that the amplitude may vary from year to year or time to time. There will always be this underlying seasonal rhythm, being with an extra half beat in the South, but certainly the northern wave in the wintertime,” Burke said.

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