Over 400 state-licensed adult care homes will be required to regularly test for COVID-19 under an executive order announced Wednesday by Gov. Laura Kelly.


The new edict, which will go into effect next week, mirrors stringent guidelines for long term care facilities regulated by the federal government, which was rolled out over the summer.


That didn’t apply, however, to smaller long-term care homes, residential care and a smaller subsection of facilities regulated by the state.


Now, any symptomatic COVID-19 individuals at those places will have to be tested. Regular testing of all staff would be mandated and its frequency depends on how prevalent the virus is in a given county.


Counties with the highest level of spread, for example, would be expected to test twice a week.


Kelly said it would serve as a way of ensuring uniformity for all facilities, regardless of whether the state or federal government is regulating them.


"My administration hopes to provide clarity for nursing facilities statewide on the testing practices that will protect the workers, the residents and communities from the spread of COVID-19," she said in a Statehouse news conference.


Facilities can use their own stores of point-of-care rapid testing or they can elect to partner with a private lab to get the results.


Federally regulated nursing homes have sometimes chafed at the testing requirements, imposed by the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services in August.


The federal government pushed out rapid testing kits to help nursing homes comply but they ran out quickly and some Kansas facilities have said they never got the supplies in the first place.


Nursing homes have told lawmakers repeatedly that the testing requirements create a financial burden, leading at least one top legislator skeptical of Kelly’s order.


"She better make sure every single one of them has a testing machine, test kits and every bit of (personal protective equipment) they need," said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita. "You cannot mandate something you haven’t provided them the tools to do it with."


But Laura Howard, secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said the move was "common sense" and pointed to the 212 active COVID-19 clusters in nursing homes across the state as underscoring the need for the testing.


"This testing strategy is one more way to prevent COVID-19 from entering all adult care homes, detecting cases quickly and stopping transmission and really allowing facilities then to take the appropriate steps," Howard said.


Kelly: Little change to vaccine plan


Kelly said that there was still little change to the state’s vaccine plan, with states waiting on the Food and Drug Administration to make a call on an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer immunization.


Such a decision from the federal regulatory body could come as soon as Thursday or Friday but may happen over the weekend.


If approved, the first shipment of roughly 24,000 vaccine doses would arrive in Kansas shortly afterward, likely by the end of next week.


"It will all happen within a very short period of time," said Kansas Department of Health and Envionment Secretary Lee Norman.


The state will receive the vaccine shipments at five facilities with cold storage capabilities, which is required for the Pfizer vaccine.


The doses will then be pushed out to those administering the vaccine, including CVS or Walgreens locations, which are handling the immunization of long-term care residents.


Health care workers will be in the highest priority group, as will those nursing home residents and staff.


While the state is still trying to determine the rest of the vaccination order, Kelly said last week that meatpacking workers and grocery store employees would be among the essential workers who would be in the next priority group.


That batch would also include those age 65 and older, as well as those who have a compromised immune system.


The state has some flexibility to depart from the order recommended by the federal government but Norman said they would take the guidance "to heart."