By CRISTINA JANNEY
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said he hopes the Senate will focus on health care as it debates another round of COVID-19 aid when he returns to Washington on Monday.
Moran was in Hays on Friday to tour Fort Hays State University's Kelly Center, which just received a grant to expand mental health services for students.
"I'm not supportive of the huge things that we have done to date," Moran said. "The next package ought to be more precise, more focused, and it ought not cost trillions of dollars. I would focus on the health care side of the circumstance — how do we get people healthy and how do they make certain they know they are healthy."
FHSU President Tisa Mason on Friday requested a test that could provide results in a matter of minutes versus days.
Moran said that corresponds with his focus that a phase four aid package should on be testing, personal protection equipment and a vaccine.
"The only way we can get ourselves back to closer to normal is by people being healthy and knowing they are healthy," he said.
Moran voted for the CARES ACT, from which FHSU received funds.
"The last time we passed the major pieces of legislation ... I was operating under the view that COVID-19 would be with us for two or three months, be behind us and we were just tiding people over during the short period of time we could help them," Moran said.
"If this is a pandemic that is going to continue for the remainder of the year and into next year, our focus has to be bringing that date to an early end and get the virus consequences behind us."
Moran said he thought if Congress does not pass legislation during the next week or two, nothing will be passed until after the election.
"My hope is that something can be negotiated and broadly supported," he said.
Moran said a continuation of federal expanded unemployment benefits as well as another round of $1,200 stimulus payments to individuals will be a part of the debate.
However, Moran said he would prefer to focus on getting the economy going and ensuring Americans have jobs.
Although he said there have been businesses that have fallen through the cracks, he said the Payroll Protection Program has worked well and could be extended.
"We are willing to work with other members of Congress who have slightly different priorities than me to see that we get something done" Moran said.
COVID-19 testing on campus
Moran circled back around to testing.
FHSU announced Thursday it would begin surveillance testing of asymptomatic individuals. The testing will be voluntary and based on self-collected saliva specimen kits.
Moran said testing loses its effectiveness when results are delayed.
"If we can test people and know within 15 minutes, we can isolate people who are positive and allow people in a socially distanced way, in a responsible way, to go on with their lives," Moran said.
Mason said she thought FHSU is doing an excellent job in maintaining a safe campus environment, but the college can't control what happens off campus.
"I really want to have a shout out to our faculty," Mason said. "I had some students in my backyard who were really admiring how the faculty was bending over backward. The comment is that the faculty is working with students who are in quarantine side by side to make sure they don't get behind.
"That's intentional. That's difficult, and everybody is working hard to do the right thing."
The Kelly Center provided a record 4,084 personal counseling sessions last year, Gina Smith, director of the Kelly Center, said. This was a 143 percent increase in services over the last five years.
She said the center is on pace to meet or exceed that number this year.
"More students are experiencing stress related to isolation that goes with taking their courses online instead of being able to come to campus," Smith said. "We've had students struggle financially."
Moran said he is concerned about how COVID is affecting the mental health of students as well as residents of rural Kansas.
"We are on a mission to do everything we can to prevent suicides, which are increasing, perhaps as a result of COVID, but perhaps before then in agriculture," Moran said. "We have seen this in northwest Kansas with veterans, and I learned today a significant increase in suicide with students."
Moran said FHSU can play a role in not only helping students, but also training a new workforce of mental health professionals, who he said he hopes will stay in northwest Kansas to provide services.