Kansas virus update: Governor orders ban on large crowds; 11 known cases, 1 death; KCC temporarily halts disconnection of utilities; Kansas House grants judiciary power to suspend court deadlines
This content is being provided for free as a public service to our readers during the coronavirus outbreak. Please support local journalism by subscribing to CJOnline at www.cjonline.com/subscribe.
Gov. Laura Kelly issued an executive order Monday to immediately ban gatherings of 50 or more people in Kansas churches, restaurants, concerts, recreational facilities and other venues for eight weeks to counter the COVID-19 pandemic.
The statewide mandate aligned with recommendations Sunday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid large crowds.
"This is an essential step to further encourage social distancing and to stem the spread of the virus," Kelly said at the Capitol. "When we slow the spread of the virus, we are flattening the curve. The steps we are taking are designed to flatten that curve and keep communities safe."
The governor said she asked President Donald Trump during a conference call for more flexibility in use of telemedicine and federal waivers to expand reach of health care services to people in Medicaid. She planned to meet with several Kansas business lobby organizations to discuss options for mitigating impact of the unprecedented health challenge.
The addition of three more positive tests for COVID-19 in Johnson County brought the Kansas total to 11 confirmed infections. The three latest cases were linked to an individual who went to a Johnson County social event despite feeling ill and subsequently tested positive.
In Kansas testing, KDHE said, there had been 234 negative tests for a 4.7% rate of infection among those tested so far.
The Wyandotte County health department said none of 85 employees tested at the nursing facility linked to the state’s lone fatality were positive for the virus, but two-dozen tests results were pending at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
"We don’t know how that patient was exposed," said Alan Greiner, health officer for Wyandotte County’s health agency. "We’ve been conducting a rigorous contact investigation since that came to light."
The Kansas Corporation Commission used emergency powers to suspend utility disconnects for nonpayment of bills until April 15. The directive covered all electrical, natural gas, water and telecommunications utilities under the KCC’s jurisdiction. Kelly said she would issue an executive order extending the suspension to Kansas utility companies not regulated by the KCC.
"No one should have to worry about losing utility services needed to ensure public safety, which is why I am bringing every resource to bear," Kelly said.
The Kansas House voted 113-5 to give the chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court authority to issue an order extending or suspending legal deadlines and to authorize use of videoconferencing for court proceedings. That measure would have to be approved by the Senate and signed into law by Kelly.
The Kansas Supreme Court called off scheduled oral arguments through March, restricted access to the Kansas Judicial Center in Topeka, outlined a self-quarantine policy for employees and judges, and canceled travel, conferences and training involving the judicial branch workforce.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, said he was concerned about whether medical facilities throughout Kansas had access to testing kits for the virus. He said the high level of testing conducted in South Korea as well as other countries was laudable and a model the U.S. government should consider, the senator said.
He was preparing to return to Washington, D.C., for a vote on the U.S. House-passed economic relief bill touching on unemployment benefits, tax breaks for businesses and other emergency measures. The federal government will need to deal with the enormous financial pressure on the national health care system, he said.
"There will be economic problems for the health care delivery system in our state," the senator said. "It’s something I want to pursue."
On Sunday, the Kansas governor recommended all Kansas public school districts cancel classes this week. Many colleges and universities in Kansas already took that step to allow time to initiate transition to online instruction of students. The CDC Centers issued the national recommendation for suspension of gatherings of more than 50 people for the subsequent eight weeks.
These unprecedented adjustments are necessary to attempt to flatten the curve of infection, said Steve Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kan.
"What we are afraid of in health care is if the rate of the rise in new cases is so great that it could overwhelm the health care delivery system," Stites said. "Every hospital is capable of taking care of COVID-19 patients. These are not patients who need some bizarre new technology."
The coronavirus can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the cold to lung lesions and pneumonia. It seems to spread easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The World Health Organization classified the outbreak as a pandemic.