Groups roll out advertisement encouraging mask-wearing as case counts continue to rise

Andrew Bahl
A screenshot from the first advertisement released by a group of statewide organizations urging residents to wear masks.

A coalition of interest groups rolled out Monday a statewide public service campaign urging Kansans to wear masks and take actions to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Touted by organizations including the Kansas Chamber, Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Hospital Association, the ad campaign will begin this week and is slated to include a presence on TV, radio and social media ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Hospitals across the state are facing significant capacity and staffing constraints because of increased COVID-19 spread, and this campaign will help ensure the normal standards of care Kansans expect will be preserved,” said KHA President Chad Austin in a statement. “All mitigation efforts taken over these next several weeks will be critical to keeping Kansas businesses, schools and other services safely open.”

The efforts comes as Kansas reported 7,526 new cases of COVID-19 since Friday, as well as an increase of 46 deaths and 95 hospitalizations in that timeframe.

The state’s seven-day moving average for the number of tests coming back positive dipped to 33.3%, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The ad campaign is part of Gov. Laura Kelly’s strategy to halt the virus’ rising spread through the state and lawmakers believe it will be more effective than mandating residents wear a face covering.

“I think we realize that mandates don’t always work, but this educational effort will,” said House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, earlier this month.

The first advertisement released by the groups features a mechanic perched next to a car engine, an American draped flag in the background.

“This is a tool,” the man said of the mask in his hand. “It says nothing about my politics. I wear it to protect the people that I love.”

The campaign is funded by $1.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief dollars earmarked specifically for the purpose.

But Kelly is also continuing her push for counties to impose mask-wearing requirements. She announced last week another statewide mask mandate set to take effect on Nov. 25 in a bid to give counties time to implement their own orders, if they so choose.

Counties will still have the ability to opt-out of the mandate and at least one county has taken advantage of that option already.

Osage County Clerk Rhonda Beets confirmed that county commissioners elected to opt-out of the mandate in their meeting Monday morning.

“It gives Osage County flexibility going forward to make recommendations as necessary,” Beets said.

Osage County reported 35 COVID-19 cases since Friday out of 470 cases diagnoses since the pandemic began in the spring.

Meanwhile, the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan. set a record for the total number of COVID-19 patients, as well as the number of patients in intensive care.

Steve Stites, chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Health System, said hospitals in the region were also starting to run into a shortage of ventilators.

“I think we’re approaching being really in trouble,” Stites said.