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KS leaders disagree on vaccine distribution as prisons struggle with COVID-19

Posted at 12:05 PM, Jan 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 13:06:38-05

EL DORADO, Kan. — A 13th Kansas inmate has died of COVID-19 as the virus continues to spread in the state's prisons, infecting thousands.

The Kansas Department of Corrections said the latest inmate to die had been serving a 24-year sentence for attempted first-degree murder and second-degree murder at the El Dorado Correctional Facility. He was 65 and had an unspecified underlying medical condition. He was taken to a hospital Saturday and died Monday.

The state prison system — housing about 8,600 inmates — has reported 5,303 cases among offenders and another 1,063 among staff. Four staff members also have died.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has said that she supports vaccinating prison inmates before the general public, according to a report last month from The Topeka Capital-Journal.

However, not everyone agrees. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a Facebook post on Sunday that people ages 65 and older should be a top priority in getting vaccinated.

Schmidt cited high death rates in Kansans older than 65 for wanting to get them vaccinated first.

"Of the 2,879 COVID deaths reported in Kansas, 2,466 (85.7%) have been people age 65 and older with 1,108 of those (38.5%) age 85 and older," Schmidt said in the post. "By contrast, 12 inmates in Kansas prisons have died of COVID (0.4% of all deaths)."

Schmidt said after frontline workers, which include prison employees, and nursing home residents and employees receive the vaccine, seniors should be ahead of inmates in the next steps of distribution.