Kansas City-area residents ordered to stay at home on Tuesday, KDHE confirms 55 cases in Kansas and second virus-related fatality, KDHE secretary says situation not "yet" requires stay-at-home orders, U.S. attorney issues fraud alert, 75 Kansas counties have no ICU beds, KU halts nonessential research.
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TOPEKA — Health officials have ordered Kansas City-area residents to stay at home for 30 days, starting Tuesday, in an effort to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19.
The order affects all but essential services for residents in Johnson and Wyandotte counties, as well as Jackson County on the Missouri side.
The area is a hotbed for confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including the only two deaths from the illness so far in Kansas. At least 55 people in Kansas have tested positive for the virus, including 38 in Johnson and Wyandotte counties.
"If we don’t act, the virus can spread very easily," said Allen Greiner, chief medical officer for the Kansas City, Kan., unified government. "Sometimes people who have the virus don’t know it. If you are close to someone like this, they can infect you and many others. This is why we must follow the public health order for everyone to stay at home."
Government, infrastructure, child care, health care, grocery stores, pharmacies and food services will be allowed to continue during the home quarantine period, which is in effect until at least April 23.
Health officials tracking ascent of the coronavirus in Kansas said confirmed cases in the state were insufficient to issue orders mirroring instructions in California, New York and other states to mostly confine people indoors.
Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said escalation of confirmed cases to 55, up from 44 on Friday, meant COVID-19 was expanding in Kansas. The rise hasn’t reached a level where KDHE feels it necessary to take more aggressive action, he said.
"Do 3 million people need to shelter in place in Kansas? We’re not there yet," Norman said. "Will we eventually get there? I don’t know."
Officials in California and New York responded to the pandemic by requiring nonessential workers to remain at home to slow spread of COVID-19. Illinois imposed a similar strategy Saturday, with Connecticut following Monday. Oregon and New Jersey have restricted movement of people but stopped short of describing it as a stay-at-home mandate.
Norman said people must take seriously the public health advisories on social distancing and personal hygiene. The voluntary approach is an attempt to compress the infection curve and prevent health care systems from being overwhelmed by patients requiring intensive care, he said.
"We must continue to emphasize and re-emphasize to people: Don’t be dumb. Don’t go to Padre Island. The beaches are crowded there. That’s a bad idea," said Norman, a physician.
He said if more rigorous restraints on movement came to Kansas it would most likely start in counties where infection had been highest. KDHE’s latest update reported 25 cases in Johnson County, 13 in Wyandotte County, four in Leavenworth County and two each in Butler and Morris counties.
On Saturday, KDHE announced a Johnson County individual was the second death in Kansas attributed to the coronavirus. The first was in Wyandotte County.
KDHE has mandated 14-day home quarantine for Kansans who traveled to a state with known widespread community transmission, including California, Florida, New York and Washington state, on or after March 15. People who visited Eagle, Summit, Pitkin or Gunnison counties in Colorado in the week prior to March 15 or after also were instructed to self-quarantine.
On Saturday, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health announced two new cases of COVID-19 in Douglas County, bringing the county’s current total to three. Results sent to KDHE’s laboratories identified the positive cases. However, the KDHE’s latest tally only registered one case in Douglas County.
The new Douglas County cases involve a woman in her 30s who recently traveled to the West Coast, and a man also in his 30s who had returned from a trip to England. Both patients were in isolation.
The Riley County Health Department said its first confirmed case of COVID-19 was in Manhattan. The 51-year-old man recently traveled overseas, said Julie Gibbs, county health officer.
In response, Riley County issued an order prohibiting all public gatherings of more than 10 people.
Here are Saturday’s tallies of positive coronavirus tests and death totals from surrounding states: Colorado, 363 positives and four fatalities; Missouri, 73 and three; Oklahoma, 53 and one; and Nebraska, 33 cases.
Stephen McAllister, the U.S. attorney for Kansas, urged the public to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 by calling a hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
He said the U.S. Department of Justice would prioritize investigation and prosecution of illegal schemes involving the coronavirus.
"We’re open for business and our mission is to protect the public," McAllister said. "We will prosecute anyone seeking to profit unlawfully from the public’s fear of COVID-19."
He said Kansans ought to be on the lookout for businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online or companies sending emails posing as the World Health Organization or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is a danger that malicious websites and apps appearing to share coronavirus-related information can gain and lock access to your personal devices until payment is received, McAllister said.
ICU bed space
A new Kaiser Family Foundation data analysis showed half of U.S. counties had no intensive care beds, which posed a risk to people 60 and up facing the highest risk of serious illness or death from spread of COVID-19. ICU beds have sophisticated equipment to monitor patients and to assist those struggling to breathe.
In Kansas, the report said, at least 75 of the 105 counties in Kansas had no ICU beds. Wyandotte County had the highest concentration in relation to people 60 or older at one ICU bed for every 191 people. At the other end of this list, Cowley County had a deficit reflecting one ICU bed for every 2,083 people over 60.
"No matter how you look at it, the numbers are too small," said Atul Grover, executive vice president of the Association of American Medical Colleges. "It’s scary."
The American Hospital Association has predicted the United Sates could need 1.9 million ICU beds over a period of months to treat COVID-19 patients.
Research on hold
Officials at the University of Kansas announced to faculty the suspension as of Monday of all nonessential research activities on KU’s Lawrence and Johnson County campuses.
"We understand that this will significantly disrupt your current projects, but this is an unprecedented situation that requires us and our peer institutions to take this action," Chancellor Doug Girod said in a statement issued with provost Barbara Bichelmeyer and the vice chancellor for research, Simon Atkinson.
Essential research was defined by KU as work involving "critical, long-term studies that would have to be repeated if interrupted or if time-sensitive data collection were to be impacted." It also would include caring for animals or plants housed in university facilities or activities to prevent damage to equipment that can’t be shut down temporarily.
At Kansas State University, campus officials said the university planned to remain on "limited operations status" through the end of the semester. The university called off its in-person commencement ceremonies scheduled for May 9 to May 16 on the Manhattan and Salina campuses.
In addition, K-State said all employees would continue to get paid at regular rates during this emergency period. K-State also adopted a hiring freeze.
Jay Golden, president of Wichita State University, said classes would move Monday to online or remote instruction. Wichita State is considering options for a virtual commencement ceremony for May graduates. If that occurred, he said, the university would hold an in-person commencement next fall.
"A time may come where our entire university community will be asked to stay home and operate the university remotely," Golden said. "We’re not there yet."