Update – April 10 Covid-19 State Response
Hey everyone – I just wrapped up another conference call with Gov. Laura Kelly and members of her administration. I’ve listed some of the highlights here.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment
The state now has 1,166 active cases of Covid-19, with 50 deaths. About 30 percent of the cases have resulted in hospitalization. The hardest hit counties are Wyandotte, Johnson, Sedgwick, Shawnee, Leavenworth, Douglass and Coffey Counties. Coffey counties cases are largely contained to a long-term care community.
Dr. Lee Norman said he knew this would be a tough week of the pandemic. We had 11 deaths in the state on Wednesday alone, and the department is currently working 17 active outbreaks. While he was on the phone, he said that he had just learned of another. Four cluster infections (up from three previously stated) in the state originated at religious gatherings. He mentioned that a couple from Montgomery County had traveled home from a religious function in Wyandotte County. “We dont’ know how many people they came in contact with before they died,” he said.
While the state has a good number of testing machines, including 15 Abbott quick test machines, we can’t get the supplies needed to make the machines functional. KDHE has been able to ramp up and is capable of doing hundreds of tests each day. Dr. Norman said we have “millions” of tests on order, but they’ve not arrived. There are a couple problems he outlined. One is that we’re competing with FEMA and other states for both personal protective equipment and testing materials. “We can put in an order, and it’s suddenly whisked away by the feds,” he said. So even though we have the testing machines, it does no good to deploy those units until we have the material needed to make them useable. Another issue is supply chain on things like testing swabs. There are only two companies that make them. We can’t use traditional swabs with cotton or wood because they interfere with the test results. Private labs in Sedgwick County are also testing patients, and Johnson County has started a drive up testing site for “population sampling” that should help KDHE better understand the spread of Covid-19.
Dr. Norman stressed again that it’s important to follow the stay at home orders. He cited a study by the Los Alamos National Lab that says the infectivity factor is closer to 6. Previous estimates put the rate at 2.5. That basically means that every infected person has the capacity to infect 6 other people. “That’s concerning,” Dr. Norman said. “I think people need to continue staying at home. The estimate is that if you have 50 people, there are 5 that are shedding the virus.”
Kansas Department of Emergency Management
Gen. Weishar said the Adjutant General’s office is preparing to the apex of the outbreak in Kansas. There are currently 146 Kansas National Guard members deployed, largely to staff Emergency operations and deploy PPE. This week, they pushed out the state’s allotment of PPE. “No one got what they wanted or needed, but it’s more than zero,” he said.
Like Dr. Norman, Gen. Weishar expressed frustration with the lack of PPE. He said that most of our PPE is made in China, and a lot of our orders aren’t being satisfied. Again, he cited competition with FEMA and the federal government. “A lot is being intercepted by FEMA, and it’s getting to harder hit areas.” As an alternative, the state has tried to procure sterilization solutions that can be used to sterilize used PPE, but again, they encounter federal competition for supplies. They are working with KU to develop a solution. As an example, he pointed out that Kansas ordered 14 million gloves, but received only 1 million.
People and businesses, however, are responding. Gen. Weishar indicated that private firms and people have donated material and air travel to retrieve supplies secured in other areas. Some companies have retooled to make gowns and masks to help out. The Kansas Department of Corrections, though Kansas Correctional Industries, is making gowns and masks for use in the state.
The agency’s primary focus will be on securing PPE and getting it out to communities. It is looking to the future as a possible tool to deliver food and commodities to those in need. But the biggest concern is navigating a supply chain that isn’t addressing demand.
Kansas Department of Corrections
Secretary Jeff Zmuda outlined what the department has done to limit exposure to Covid-19, and to ensure the health and safety of both staff and offenders. This began with education, and developing a plan if someone inside a facility showed symptoms. In mid-March, access to facilities was suspended to minimize risk. Extra cleaning schedules were put in place, and they waived any costs for medical care (normally a $2 copay for inmates). They also created a 14-day quarantine for incoming inmates, to ensure they didn’t have the virus. Cloth masks are being distributed to both inmate population and staff. He said it’s difficult to practice social distancing in a prison setting.
There is a cluster infection at the Lansing facility – 16 staff and 12 offenders have tested positive. An additional 7 offenders are in quarantine awaiting test results. The facility has a health professional from KDHE embedded at the site.
There was a riot on Thursday afternoon that began around 3 p.m. A group of offenders wouldn’t comply with staff instruction. The staff secured the area and left, per protocol. There were 168 people housed in the wing, and reviews showed about 20-40 of them were active participants in the unrest. Additional staff, including a tactical team, was brought in. By 2 a.m. Friday, the team had breached a barricaded door, and regained control of the unit. No staff was hurt or injured. Two inmates had minor injuries, and returned to housing.
Kansas Department of Commerce
Secretary David Toland said that all but 9 of the state’s banks have been approved to make applications for federal PPP (Payroll Protection Program). Like just about everything, there is a backlog of applications, with no clear line on when that might be cleared. There’s also a number of applicants who have been approved, but who haven’t yet received the money. The same situation exists for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) – it’s taking about 3 weeks to process applications. Sec. Toland said if a business needs information on a loan application, call 800-659-2955. (SBA help line) Additionally, 12 staff members have been trained to answer questions via online chat feature. They can help you navigate some of the Small Business Administration programs, and point you to the right direction for a variety of commerce/business related issues.
The department is listing employers who are actively hiring staff. “There are job opportunities right now,” Toland said. “They range from local government to retail.” Anyone looking for work, should visit https://www.kansascommerce.gov/covid-19-response/jobs/
The department has also mobilized to assist the Kansas Department of Labor in answering questions about unemployment benefits.
Federal legislation should put about $9 million into Community Development Block Grant funds to help small businesses. Toland said we don’t yet have federal guidance on how to apply those funds, but that he will communicate it as soon as it’s in his hands.
The department is also looking to build a list of partner companies that can produce PPE and other critical needs. “We see companies retooling to make needed items,” Toland said. “It’s been extraordinary. If you have a company that has or is willing to retool, please go to biokansas.org to fill out a survey to tell us what capabilities you have so we can have a comprehensive list.”
Toland said staff is reaching out to companies that have active incentive agreements, to work with them and make adjustments in light of the virus. “We will work to be flexible in any way we can,” he said. “We do need companies to tell us what their needs are. The goal is to get businesses and companies to be successful, and we’ll work together to accomplish that.”
Visits to the commerce site are up five-fold this week.
Kansas Department of Labor
This has been the most intensely strained department in Kansas. This week saw another 50,000 initial unemployment claims. That marks 130,000 initial claims in the past three weeks. The department is in contract with outside firms to help increase capacity, and they’ve set up a triage call center. Many more people were able to get their claims processed this week than in the previous week. Secretary Delia Garcia said her staff can now field calls from 8 to 10:30 a.m. on Saturday.
A few items:
- You will get benefits for your “waiting week”
- If you were rejected on resetting your PIN, or password, try again. The technology issue should be addressed at this point.
- Follow the department on its website or by following on Facebook. There are videos at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and a townhall on Wedneday at 3 p.m.
- The federal legislation that expands unemployment benefits runs from March 29 to July 25
- Employees of municipalities or other government entities are eligible for the state’s work-share program
There’s a resource guide at the bottom of this post. It has a lot of good information. If you continue to have challenges in accessing benefits or getting through the system, call 620-259-3972 or email mail me.
Governor Laura Kelly
Gov. Kelly addressed the conflict this week around her executive order expanding the 10-person limit on mass gatherings to include churches and funerals. “We felt it important to do because we had our highest death rate in one day this week,” she said. “Four of the 12 clusters are from church gatherings.” She also indicated that four deaths have so far resulted from those clusters. “We wanted to clarify that the 10 or fewer needed to be enforced everywhere. Before I made that order, I was on the phone with dozens of faith leaders across the state, and they were all in support of the EO. When the LCC (legislative coordinating council) revoked it, I was back on the phone with faith leaders, and reiterated their support.”
The Governor has sued the LCC, arguing that only the full legislature has the authority to reject an EO, not a panel of seven people. That is the basis of the legal challenge to the LCC’s decision. She said she’s hopeful the court – scheduled to hear oral arguments on Saturday – will rule in the administration’s favor.
“Our contention is that the revocation was not within the authority of the LCC, that only the full legislature can do that,” she said. “We’re hopeful that the court will allow EO to go forward. All of these are designed not to increase my power, but to protect the health and safety of Kansans.”
She also clarified some confusion around which order remains in place. The current order in place is EO-16. It was the stay at home order issued on March 28. All other orders remain in place.
The governor also said she’s getting questions about whether the stay at home order will be extended. It expires on April 19, and she said she will work with staff in the early part of next week to determine if the order needs to be extended.
She also said there’s some question about how $1.25 billion in federal funds might be deployed in Kansas. The federal bill set the money aside for cities of more than 500,000 and Kansas doesn’t have a city of that size.
“When the original bill came out, I expressed concern to the White House that cities of 500,000 getting direct aid had left out the communities in Kansas,” she said. “We should know more as federal guidance comes down. Rest assured as we look at the state level we want to work closely with our local units of government. You’re the boots on the ground having to implement policy and procedures.”
Gov. Kelly also signed several nex executive orders this week. EO-19 extends all occupational and professional licenses in the state to 90 days after the pandemic is declared over. EO-20 allows witnesses and notaries to serve remotely. (Shout out to Hutchinson attorney Kristen Armstrong, who helped draft the language for this). And EO-21 stops the sell of turkey hunting permits to out of state residents during the pandemic.
Rep. Jason Probst
Those are the highlight from today’s call, as best as I can retrieve them from my notes.
I’ve had several people reach out to me with issues on accessing unemployment, or with questions about some of the SBA loans. I don’t always immediately know the answer, but I can usually get you to the right place or find the answer for you. If you have any trouble or hit a road block, please reach out. Also, don’t forget to visit rallyreno.org as a resource for assistance. Local agencies have partnered to help businesses and people in our community. It’s a great tool if you find yourself in need of any help.
Stay safe and healthy.