Kansas Governor Laura Kelly officially unveiled her administration’s multi-phase plan for reopening the state during a press conference Thursday evening.
Before discussing the details of the initiative — dubbed “Ad Astra” — Kelly took time to address what the plan was not.
“The framework is not etched in stone,” Kelly said. “Its fundamental purpose is to provide as much predictability as we can for both families and businesses. Kansans must consider it a living document subject to ongoing analysis and evaluation … The framework is also not a suggestion that local communities roll back safety measures automatically simply because it’s technically permissible to do so. The state is making a concerted effort to return local control and flexibility to this process, but the state framework should be considered the floor for safeguards, not the ceiling.”
Stressing the need for local health departments to evaluate their situations on a case-by-case basis, Kelly said she expected “Phase I” of the recovery plan to kick into action Monday, May 4 with the lifting of the statewide stay-at-home order.
“Mass gatherings will remain limited to 10 or fewer people and there will be some limitations on specific types of establishments…” Kelly said. “But, by and large, if localities determine that the time is right, businesses that can maintain at least six feet of distance between consumers and adhere to industry-specific guidelines can begin to transition back to work.”
The establishments and activities not opened under Phase I are as follows: bars and nightclubs excluding curbside and carry-out services; non-tribal casinos and other indoor leisure spaces such as fitness centers and gyms; nail salons; tanning salons; tattoo parlors; community centers; outdoor and indoor entertainment venues with capacities of 2,000 or more; festivals; carnivals; parades; graduation ceremonies; public pools; organized sporting events and tournaments; and summer camps.
Barring additional developments or delays, Kelly said Phase II would begin rollout as soon as May 18. The phase includes an increased gathering limit of 30 individuals as well as an all-clear for certain establishments to reopen their doors if viable.
“Places like fitness centers and barbershops will be allowed to reopen as long as they comply with other baseline limitations …” Kelly said. “Bars and nightclubs will be allowed to open at 50 percent total occupancy and can continue otherwise to operate their curbside and carry-out services.”
Phase III, set tentatively for June 1, increases the mass gathering limit to 90 individuals and will reopen the majority of day-to-day businesses and establishments with the goal of phasing out the vast majority of state restrictions by June 15.
“All business, activity and venue prohibitions will be lifted as long as they comply with baseline limitations outlined at the start of the process,” Kelly said.
While public perception of the plan is sure to evolve over the next few weeks, the initial reaction to Kelly’s speech on The Gazette’s social media was generally positive.
“Good plan,” posted Rebecca Caruthers to Facebook. “We need to be cautious yet learn to safely move forward. I wish they would commit to 100% testing in meat packing plants....it might help the workers return safely.”
“I think Kelly did a pretty good job,” wrote Loretta Ann. “It was a concise explanation with encouragement, and a good ending call to be a proud Kansan.”
“Thanks for taking care of Kansas,” added Linda Bainum in a comment addressed to Kelly.
Still, others expressed concern and uncertainty about the viability of the plan’s timeline, especially for those currently out of work or those seeing a dramatic reduction in business.
“Bar owners still can’t pay the bills,” read a post from Joey Sprinkle.
“What a joke,” added Aaron Atchison. “Just might as well open everything back up if your [sic] allowing no max occupancy in restaurants and 6 ft space and 10 per table. You know how hard that is going to be for restaurants and owners to police?”
Reaction among local legislators — who viewed the rollout of the plan as necessary, but a bit vague on details — was also mixed.
“I knew it obviously was not going to be perfect by any means, but I compared it with the guidance from the White House and the CDC that they released a couple weeks ago called ‘Opening Up America’ and it seemed like, to me, that the governor’s plan followed it for the most part,” said District 60 Representative Mark Schreiber. “It followed the same basic framework, and I think it was a good document to work off of ... I know people would love to open everything back up even as soon as today, but what I’m most afraid of is opening up too quickly and then having a round of increased infections that leads to another shutdown. That would complicate things tremendously, especially for businesses and schools.”
Senator Jeff Longbine agreed with Schreiber that the initial plan was a good starting point, but expressed concern about the possibility of increased confusion and the continued lack of viable testing supplies and locations within Kansas.
“On the surface, it’s easy to criticize the governor, but I think she’s doing what she feels is best,” Longbine said. “There are some components that I’m not sure will be quite as workable in practice as they are on paper. For instance, restaurants putting up plexiglass between booths and having them be at 50 percent occupancy. It makes me wonder what kind of expenditure that would have to be, and if it would even be profitable for those types of businesses to reopen if they can only be half full. Some of those aspects of the plan are still troubling to me.
“Another big concern of mine is that we continually hear from Gov. Kelly and from our local agencies that we need widespread testing. We don’t have that availability. I would very much like to get to the bottom of that, but it seems like I’m chasing my tail. I was contacted late last week by a Kansas-based company which has only 720 employees, but they have the capability of doing 30,000 tests a week. For some reason, we’re not using them and I don’t know why … You also get those situations where people have been trying to get tested for weeks now, but they’re being told they can’t be tested because they don’t have symptoms.
“So, we’re basically just testing people we already know are sick, which I guess makes sense. But, we’re not testing people who are being sent home with no symptoms. We really need to know when those people can start returning to work. So, is this due to a shortage of testing, or is it the unwillingness of the government both on the state and county level to pay for testing?”
For the most part, Kelly agreed these issues would be at the forefront of her mind during the process, but was also careful to stress the phases wouldn’t be rushed.
“We anxiously await an opportunity to learn how seasonality will impact this virus,” Kelly said. “To put it another way, even if Kansans do everything perfectly for the next couple of months, outbreaks are almost inevitable until a vaccine is developed, manufactured and made widely available. Tonight’s framework is a starting point to this long, slow transition back to some semblance of the lives we remember from just a few short months ago.”
A full outline of the Ad Astra reopening plan can be accessed at https://covid.ks.gov/ad-astra-a-plan-to-reopen-kansas.