As virus cases surge, Kansas wants people home, feds to act

kansas capitol building

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas’ top public health official on Wednesday chided residents looking to “wriggle around” local stay-at-home orders meant to check the spread of the novel coronavirus, and Gov. Laura Kelly said the U.S. government should require industries to manufacture medical supplies.

The state reported 126 confirmed cases, a jump of 28 cases in a single day, but the total didn’t include three confirmed cases announced later Wednesday by hospitals and local health officials in Topeka. The state has had three COVID-19-related deaths in the past two weeks, all in the state’s portion of the Kansas City area.

Dr. Lee Norman, the state’s secretary of health and environment, said he expects the number to approach 400 by the end of March, making social distancing and self-isolating important, even for people not under a shelter-in-place order.

At least 10 counties have issued shelter-in-place orders, including the five most populous counties. They cover 1.7 million people, or 60% of the state’s 2.9 million residents.

Kelly, a Democrat, said President Donald Trump’s suggestion that restrictions on people’s movements could be loosened by Easter to help the economy is “wishful thinking.” She said the federal government should invoke the 1950s-era national Defense Production Act to address shortages of ventilators, protective masks and testing kits, a move Trump has said isn’t necessary.

“We, along with all of the other states, are really kind of begging the federal government to get their act together,” Kelly said in an interview.

Also Wednesday, Kelly signed a $19.9 billion annual budget that keeps state government operating after June, and it includes $65 million in disaster relief funds that can be used to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.

The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, announced Tuesday night that the latest COVID-19-related death was a man there in his 70s who tested positive last week. A majority of coronavirus cases are in either Wyandotte County or neighboring Johnson County in the Kansas City area, but cases have been confirmed for more than 20 of the state’s 105 counties.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Norman said all Kansans should stay at home as much as possible and not try to exploit exceptions in local orders that allow people to buy food, gas up their cars or seek medical care.

“We really need to take home isolation seriously, whether or not there’s a declaration in place. Adults should not require declarations in place in order to follow great advice,” Norman said. “This is not game. It’s not a puzzle to try to figure out how to skirt around the exemptions that are in place.”

Steven Stites, chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kansas, said the expected surge of patients at the hospital is beginning, with eight patients with confirmed cases and about 40 more with symptoms. A business group has raised $1.2 million to provide the health system 50,000 test kits.


Hollingsworth and Stafford reported from Kansas City, Missouri.