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In the past several weeks, our world has been rocked.


The COVID-19 pandemic changed practically every aspect of our lives. Together, we’ve faced extraordinary and unprecedented challenges.


This very serious virus has attacked the elderly, infants and all ages in between. The toll has been gut-wrenching with Kansans statewide testing positive and falling ill, and so many families losing loved ones to the disease.


Business closings and job losses compounded the pain as we had to stay home to stay safe and save lives.


But in the midst of the devastating damage to our physical and economic health, there is hope.


By being proactive, we’ve managed to stave off even worse losses of the magnitude experienced in other states. Coronavirus-driven hospitalization and death rates have steadily fallen. We’ve ramped up testing needed to identify who’s infected before they unknowingly spread the disease.


And now, after several weeks of being cooped up under a stay-home order, it’s time to move forward — carefully — and toward a new normal routine.


On Thursday I announced the state’s official plan to reopen our economy in a cautious, measured way. “Ad Astra: A Plan to Reopen Kansas” outlines clear and specific directions for individuals, schools, businesses and events in three phases of reopening. See details at covid.ks.gov.


The reopening plan, which begins Monday, allows public gatherings to expand from 10 and upward as we make progress with health-related metrics. We’ll evaluate Kansas’ disease spread, testing rates, hospitalizations, personal protective equipment availability and other factors before moving from one phase to the next.


Science and data will dictate how quickly — or slowly — the reopening unfolds. We simply cannot let our guard down against a coronavirus that’s lived up to its “novel” label.


Without doubt, we’re all eager to declare victory and resume our pre-COVID 19 routine. And soon enough we will be settling in at our favorite restaurants, and again checking out the goods at local stores. Eventually we’ll be enjoying our kids’ sports and getting long overdue haircuts.


But as we approach new phases of openness, it’s absolutely critical to be cautious. Medical experts warn of a rough fall and winter if we disregard the virus and move forward too quickly.


Our plan to reopen was developed with input from public health experts, business leaders, state legislators, local officials and others with keen knowledge of the challenges and opportunities. The result is a Kansas-specific approach that also lets county leaders tailor restrictions to their specific needs. For example, a county may be more restrictive than the state if they experience a new cluster of positive cases.


Regardless of where you are in Kansas, the same public health advice still stands: wash your hands often, stay home if you are sick and maintain at least 6 feet of distance in public. By doing so you’ll be more likely to stay healthy, and protect your family, friends and front-line workers who are risking their own health to keep us safe.


No one knows for sure if or when we’ll get back to the life we knew before COVID-19. For now, one thing is certain: Everyone must continue to take this public health threat seriously.


My administration will continue doing its utmost to protect our most vulnerable residents and all others who could fall prey to this deadly virus. We’re also committed to getting Kansans back to work in safe and healthy environments.


Through every difficult step in this disheartening journey, Kansans’ spirit and determination have epitomized our very appropriate state motto, Ad Astra per Aspera: “To the stars through difficulties.”


I’m confident that by working together, we will get through this and emerge even stronger than before. That’s the Kansas way.


Laura Kelly is the 48th governor of Kansas.