Despite GOP calls for ‘exit strategy,’ Kelly wants to extend Kansas COVID emergency order

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Kansas’ COVID-19 state of emergency is set to expire next week after GOP Legislative leaders, calling for an “exit strategy” agreed to a limited extension last month.

But Gov. Laura Kelly told reporters Thursday she is requesting another extension and wants the order to stay in place through the end of August.

“There are a whole lot of reasons that the declaration needs to be extended,” Kelly said. “Once the declaration expires ... all of the executive orders that I put out there that protect Kansans or allow for providers to be able to provide services cease to exist.”

“We’re not ready yet.”

In addition to executive orders issued to manage the emergency, Kelly said the declaration was needed for continued use of the Kansas National Guard to distribute vaccines.

Kelly’s request will require approval from a majority GOP panel of Legislative leaders.

The panel agreed to extend the emergency for two weeks in late May but indicated they wanted the administration to be ready for regular operations afterward.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, said he was open to extending the order but had not yet heard a compelling reason from the governor.

“We requested the governor’s staff to come to us and let us know what the real issues might be if it wasn’t extended,” Ryckman said. “We have not heard from the governors office. If for some reason they though the sky was gonna fall they should probably let us know what the real issues are and we could make an informed decision not some political one.”

Ryckman said Kansans, under a state of emergency for COVID-19 since March of 2020, want to return to normal life.

The emergency expands Kelly’s executive powers and exists alongside several executive orders meant to manage the pandemic, including an order allowing retired and student medical professionals to administer vaccines.

Speaking to lawmakers last month, General David Weishaar of the Kansas National Guard told lawmakers the state could lose access to federal resources if the emergency expired but he had not been able to get clear answers from federal authorities on the topic.

Kelly said Thursday her administration was working on plans to end the emergency but needed more than the two weeks provided by the Legislature to get it done.

As of Thursday, 43% of Kansans had received their first does of the COVID-19 vaccine and the daily average for new cases was 70, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

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