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Coronavirus

Fears about Opening Kansas Schools Drive State’s Mask Order

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas’ governor and its top public health official worry that the state won’t be able to reopen its K-12 schools for the new school year in August if it doesn’t reverse a recent surge in reported coronavirus cases.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly told legislative leaders Thursday that a desire to reopen schools is a key reason she issued an executive order requiring Kansas residents to wear masks in public and at their workplaces. The order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, with a fine of up to $2,500 possible for violators.

Kelly and other state officials don’t expect strict enforcement with decisions about pursuing violations left up to prosecutors in each of the state’s 105 counties. Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt can pursue violations but said he will leave them to local officials.

Also, counties can opt out of the order under a new pandemic law that took effect in June and resulted from a compromise between Kelly and lawmakers.

The governor and state health secretary and Dr. Lee Normans said the goal is to increase people’s use of masks to control the novel coronavirus’ spread. Norman told legislative leaders that Kansas could prevent more than 11,500 new coronavirus cases between now and Oct. 1 with a mask mandate.

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