Kansas governor issues four new executive orders, in addition to a 10-person limit on gatherings; statewide stay-at-home mandate not necessary at this stage; state’s case total pegged at 79 but expected to surpass 300 by April.
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TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly issued four new executive orders Monday evening after declaring her intent to impose a statewide directive limiting gatherings of people to no more than 10, down from the current cap of 50, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
She said the situation in Kansas didn’t — at this time — necessitate a statewide order to stay at home. The restriction on grouping of people takes effect Tuesday.
"All of these actions, while disruptive and unpleasant, are absolutely necessary to keep Kansans safe and healthy and to prevent overwhelming emergency rooms and our larger health care system," Kelly said. "We've all got to do our part and work together to protect our families and communities."
On Monday, state officials reported at least 79 Kansas residents, a downward revision of two due to a miscount in Douglas County. Two out-of-state visitors tested positive and two Kansas residents died.
After vowing to sign the order limiting public gatherings, the Democratic governor issued four other executive orders that covered evictions, trash services, driver’s license renewals and filing state tax returns.
Kelly replaced an order temporarily prohibiting certain foreclosures and evictions with a directive that "explicitly requires that a financial hardship indirectly or directly caused" by COVID-19 was responsible for a homeowner or renter not making timely payments.
The revised standard prohibits landlords from evicting a tenant when violations of the rental agreement are caused by financial hardships linked to the coronavirus, she said.
Kelly signed an order preventing Kansas waste removal providers from ending or suspending commercial or residential service as a result of nonpayment of fees because of a customer’s loss of income or rising expenses resulting from COVID-19.
The third executive order extended deadlines for driver’s licenses and vehicle registration renewals and regulations during the pandemic to avoid disruption of transportation delivery systems. The deadline for completing renewals and registrations will be 60 days after expiration of the order, Kelly said.
Her final order extended tax filing deadlines to July 15, 2020. This is in line with federal Internal Revenue Service action in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Surge in positives
Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said state officials anticipated the number of confirmed cases in Kansas would surpass 300 within 10 days.
He said Kansans must adhere strictly to public health advisories about keeping distance from other people, washing hands and coughing into a sleeve.
"I really want to emphasize that if people took those things to heart, I think the more severe admonishments and rules would not necessarily be the case," Norman said.
Norman said the state’s critical shortage of testing supplies received a boost over the weekend with delivery of 500 more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, calls for supplies from university test labs give the KDHE lab in Topeka additional testing capacity.
KDHE is altering its testing criteria, Norman said, to use supplies more strategically. He said preferential testing will be granted for health care workers and first responders, nursing home residents, hospital patients with no alternative diagnosis, and people over 60 years old. Commercial labs provide additional testing capacity.
Norman said he was meeting with medical professionals Monday night to assess available hospital beds and plan for "alternative care sites," such as VA hospitals and surgery centers.
"This is on a very fast track," he said. "We hope by the middle to end of the week to have a master plan as to when we hit certain trigger points, where we need to have people housed."
VA worker infected
Meanwhile, an employee at the Leavenworth VA Medical Center has tested positive for COVID-19, and the hospital has implemented new restrictions in response to the threat of infection.
The VA said the risk of transmission to other patients and staff remains low, and the infected individual is collaborating with local health officials for monitoring. The VA now is restricting all non-patient visitors to Topeka and Leavenworth campuses, with a one-person exception for end-of-life situations.
Veterans who have symptoms of COVID-19 are asked to call before showing up at a VA hospital.
Residents in some of the state's most populous areas are preparing for a month-long stay at home with orders that take effect Tuesday. Kelly said Atchison, Doniphan, Miami and Lyon counties would join Douglas, Johnson, Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties in issuing the shelter-in-place orders. Other areas, including Shawnee and Riley counties, have closed bars and restaurants and banned gatherings of 10 or more in an effort to encourage social distancing.
Monday is also the first day in which state employees will stay at home for two weeks under the direction of Kelly.
Essential workers are excluded from the home quarantines.
Kelly has issued executive orders to expand telemedicine, ease restrictions on truckers, close schools, and block evictions, foreclosures and utility shutoffs as part of the campaign against the spread of COVID-19. The Legislature before adjourning last week allocated $65 million for use in dealing with the pandemic.
Federal aid in jeopardy
In the U.S. Senate, lawmakers were searching for a breakthrough on a stimulus package to prop up an economy in free-fall over the spread of COVID-19.
Democrats on Sunday blocked a procedural move to advance the legislation, saying the trillions of dollars would flow more to businesses and less to their employees. Democratic leaders in the U.S. House were considering a rival stimulus plan.
"The coronavirus is causing an unprecedented crisis in our country — jeopardizing both the public safety and financial security of our families, workers, and businesses," said Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat from the 3rd District in Kansas. "As we work to address this public health emergency and provide economic relief, I’m fighting to ensure that the priorities of Kansas and the 3rd District are incorporated in any stimulus package Congress puts forward."
Saint Francis Ministries, a child placement provider that contracts with the Kansas Department of Children and Families, urged lawmakers to consider the needs of children and families.
The federal stimulus plan should ensure the same protection for nonprofits as for private business, said Morgan Rothenberger, spokeswoman for Saint Francis Ministries.
"The concern is that as stress on families increases with layoffs, business closures, etc., and lack of supplies in stores, bills unpaid, we will see increased need for our services," Rothenberger said. "Nonprofit organizations like Saint Francis will respond to those needs — that is never the concern. But we will need additional resources, especially as our workforce and resources become stretched when people are ill or caring for ill family members."
Wichita State University president Jay Golden requested donations of personal protective equipment for use by health care workers, firefighters, emergency crews and law enforcement officers.
The university set up a curbside drop-off site on campus Monday to gather contributions of N-95 respirator masks, surgical masks, Latex gloves, surgical gowns and protective face shields.
In addition, Wichita State has been working with GoCreate, a Koch collaborative, regarding creation of masks.
"Things are changing rapidly, and WSU will adapt to do all that we can for the greater good," Golden said.
Meanwhile, the University of Kansas’ endowment association established a COVID-19 emergency relief fund. All donations are to be used in support of the university.
"From the student senate to alumni to faculty and staff, we've heard from many who want to help," said Dale Seuferling, the KU Endowment Association’s president. "The fact that people are thinking about how they can help others in their time of need assures me that we will get through this. I'm encouraged and inspired."