Health care advocates tie decrease in school COVID-19 clusters to increase in masking

by Noah Taborda, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — With flu season fast approaching, a panel of education and health care advocates are touting the effect school masking policies have had on an apparent decrease in outbreaks in the classroom.

Despite adding 10 new school clusters, the number of active outbreaks has dropped from 68 last week to 56 this week. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is reporting 546 cases connected to these ongoing clusters.

Circle Towanda Intermediate School in Butler County currently has the most COVID-19 cases within the last 14 days, with 20. Hillsboro Elementary School in Marion County and Yates Center Middle School in Woodson County both reported 12 cases in the past two weeks.

Marci Nielsen, chief adviser to the governor for COVID-19 coordination, pointed to an increase in the number of school districts implementing masking policies.

“It is important for us to understand whether masks, at the end of the day, prevent outbreaks in schools,” Nielsen said. “These trends continue to show that in Kansas, when we require masks, we see fewer outbreaks impacting fewer students.”

Nielsen shared Wednesday with the governor’s Safer Classroom Workgroup that of those districts with an active outbreak, 37% had a mask requirement. Those with no mandate or unknown policies had triple the number of cases per capita.

Nielsen reported Kansas has made many strides in the last month, as case numbers across the state tail off. Since Monday, KDHE has recorded 2,121 new cases, nine new deaths and 91 hospitalizations.

Pediatric numbers appear to be improving but school-aged children remain at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19, Nielsen said.

As the weather gets colder, panel members such as state education commissioner Randy Watson are on guard for another surge this fall or winter. Watson praised KDHE’s testing protocol, which continues to attract participating districts.

However, 22% of public and private schools have expressed no interest. Watson said improving this number could prove pivotal to keeping children in school during the winter.

“Last winter was a brutal winter, and we’re hoping that that doesn’t occur again,” he said. “We have less resistance to voluntary testing because people want to be in school and they want to participate in those activities.”

Kimber Kasitz, the head nurse for Wichita Public Schools, said being back in schools is improving not only academic success but students’ social-emotional well-being. During the pandemic, she saw an increase in the number of students coping with mental health issues — from depression to anxiety to suicidal thoughts.

Returning to in-person learning has alleviated some of these concerns, Kasitz said, while endorsing school participation in the state-funded testing strategies. Any mitigation effort that reduces the amount of time students must spend isolated from one another goes a long way, she said.

“It’s been huge to see the numbers of kids that are able to be back at in-school learning but also being able to get those peer relationships back that they missed out on over the last couple of years,” Kasitz said.

Kansas Reflector stories,, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
See more at

FDA panel recommends booster shot of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine

by Laura Olson, Kansas Reflector

Washington — Millions of Americans who received Moderna’s two-shot COVID-19 vaccine are expected to be eligible soon for booster shots, after a federal advisory panel on Thursday recommended a third dose for older and higher-risk adults as well as certain workers.

The unanimous recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration vaccine panel came a few weeks after federal health officials authorized a booster dose of Pfizer’s vaccine, to be given at least six months after an individual gets a second shot.

Unlike the Pfizer booster, the additional Moderna shots will be half doses, 50 micrograms compared to the 100 micrograms in the first and second Moderna shots that are given four weeks apart. The smaller dose resulted in fewer side effects while still boosting immune-system antibodies, according to company officials.

The FDA panel’s Moderna recommendation is for people who are 65 and older, as well as those between 18 and 64 who are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 or who live or work in situations that increase their risk. The same population groups are eligible for the Pfizer booster.

As with Pfizer, the Moderna boosters are intended to be given six months after the second shot.

That matching eligibility was by design. Peter Marks, director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting that he hoped the panel would seek to “harmonize” who is getting boosters across the different vaccines in order to reduce confusion.

The next step for the Moderna booster shot is the granting of emergency authorization by the FDA, and then action by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on who should receive the boosters. A CDC panel will meet next week to debate those specifics.

The same FDA panel that made Thursday’s recommendation will meet Friday to consider an additional dose of the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

The vaccine panel also will be reviewing data on the potential to mix and match different brands of COVID-19 vaccines. That would give more flexibility to state and local officials overseeing vaccination campaigns and to providers administering shots.

Some who received the J and J shot also have sought approval to receive a follow-up dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which studies have shown to have higher efficacy against infection.

The approval of booster shots was initially bumpy, with some federal vaccine officials frustrated by the Biden administration’s aggressive timeline for approving additional shots. Several longtime FDA officials announced their departure from the agency.

The FDA remains led by an acting commissioner, though that may soon change: The Washington Post and Politico reported Thursday that former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Robert Califf, currently a professor of cardiology at Duke University School of Medicine in North Carolina, is expected to be tapped to head the agency.

The advisory panels weighing the Pfizer shot also expressed unease about the broad categories proposed for boosters, questioning whether health care workers, teachers and others really needed another dose due to potential exposure to the virus at their workplace. The eligibility categories were pared back after a contentious committee hearing, and later expanded in the CDC’s recommendation.

Kansas Reflector stories,, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
See more at

100 jobs coming to Bonner Springs

Gov. Laura Kelly today announced that Medline, the country’s largest privately held manufacturer and distributor of medical supplies, will invest $77.5 million to construct a new distribution center and create 100 new jobs in Bonner Springs.

“Medline’s decision to choose Kansas to expand their footprint is a testament to our central location, infrastructure network, and world-class workforce,” Gov. Kelly said. “This project is a major win for Bonner Springs and the state as a whole. This company exemplifies the type of businesses we are working to attract and retain, and this new facility will be a fantastic addition to the local and regional economy.”

Medline provides medical supplies to Kansas City area hospitals, long-term care facilities and across the continuum of health care. The company has outgrown its current facility and plans to bring 141 team members to Bonner Springs. The project also will create approximately 350 construction jobs.

The expansion is part of the company’s Healthcare Resiliency Initiative to increase supply-chain efficiencies, reliability, and speed delivery to customers. Medline has prioritized planning and inventory management systems to ensure supplies can be delivered to its customers when and where they need them.

“Kansas is the perfect place to put down roots that reach the world, and we’re so excited to see Medline ready to do just that while putting more Kansans to work,” Lt. Gov. and Commerce Secretary David Toland said. “This news shows once again how our geographic position, infrastructure and workforce make Kansas the best place to invest, which more and more companies are discovering every day.”

“Medline is excited to expand our services to healthcare providers from our future home in Bonner Springs,” Bill Abington, Medline president of global operations, said. “Our state-of-the-art, medical-grade distribution center will allow us to deliver critical healthcare supplies to the entire continuum of healthcare, quicker, more efficiently, and to a broader territory, while creating quality new jobs and opportunity in Wyandotte County.”

“We are excited to welcome Medline to Bonner Springs with the knowledge that they will be a great addition to our city. With their commitment to the community, we are happy to have them select Bonner Springs as their regional distribution facility location,” Jeff Harrington, mayor of Bonner Springs, said.

“We look forward to Medline calling Bonner Springs home here in the Kansas City region in the Compass 70 Business Park. Its central U.S. location and access to the interstate makes this a great location for them to reach their customers,” Greg Kindle, president of the Wyandotte Economic Development Council, said. “Thank you to Medline, the city of Bonner Springs and the state of Kansas for bringing this project to fruition.”