Kansas is seeing a growing number of COVID-19 clusters associated with gatherings and day cares, according to the state’s top health official.


Data provided at a news conference Wednesday afternoon by Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, showed 29 of the state’s 120 active coronavirus clusters are linked to gatherings, day cares and schools.


Norman said clusters associated with gatherings had increased by seven since Monday.


"Those include exposures at bars, parties, family get-togethers and church services," Norman said.


Kansas has had a total of 250 cluster sites.


On Wednesday, KDHE reported 17,618 positive COVID-19 cases statewide, an increase of 717 since Monday. The agency has reported 282 deaths and 1,269 hospitalizations.


More than 190,000 coronavirus tests have returned negative.


Norman clarified Wednesday that the number of positive cases represents the number of individuals who have tested positive for the virus. If a person tests positive for the coronavirus multiple times, he said, they are only included in the case count once.


Norman said testing in Kansas continues to increase. He said that in April labs across the state conducted about 26,000 COVID-19 tests. In June, the number of tests given increased to 79,000.


However, the percentage of tests returning positive has also increased, which means the rise in confirmed cases isn’t necessarily a direct result of the increased testing volume.


"The percentage positive are going up all the time," Norman said.


He said in recent days, the percentage of tests returning positive has been anywhere from 10% to 13%, whereas in April, that rate of positivity typically remained in the low single digits.


"It is an ominous trend to be doing more testing with higher incidents of positive tests," Norman said. "That means without question ... that we are still very much in the growth phase. That’s why we have to contain this."


Positivity rates above 10%, he added, are problematic.


Norman continues to encourage Kansas residents to wear face coverings when in public.


"This question has been asked and answered," he said. "Masks work."


Norman said his agency has been keeping track of which Kansas counties are choosing not to enforce Gov. Laura Kelly’s mask mandate, which went into effect Friday. He said most counties aren’t enforcing the order, as they choose to make wearing masks a recommendation or adopt their own local plans.


According to Norman, it could take close to a month, or two "incubation periods," to see the effect of mask wearing on COVID-19 numbers in those counties where it is mandated.


Norman expects mask use to continue indefinitely.


"I think it will be for the foreseeable future, until we bend the curve and bring it back down," Norman said. "We could bend the curve significantly if people would adhere to the guidelines. ... But that won’t happen with the rate of people going to mass gatherings, or larger gatherings, and not doing the things they need to do."