Update – April 17 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
Dr. Lee Norman said that we now have 1,705 cases and 84 deaths in Kansas. KDHE is monitoring 35 infection clusters – that’s up 9 from Wednesday. Thirteen of those are in long-term care communities, one is in a hospital, one is at Lansing prison, 13 are in private companies, and five are from religious gathering. I didn’t catch where the balance came from.
The state has all manner of testing platforms, but the continued problem is swabs and testing cartridges. Gov. Kelly said that Dr. Norman found a creative way for the state to develop its own testing swabs via use of a 3-D printer. He said that starting next week, the state should be able to print about 10,000 a week. Once we have all the testing components in place, we will be able to perform 700-1,000 tests each day.
There’s been a lot of talk about antibody testing that can determine if a person has already been infected. There is currently no FDA approved antibody testing. There is some company out there that’s trying to make money or a name for itself by making the claim that it can tell whether you’ve had Covid-19. They even said they were endorsed by KDHE. Also not true. Dr. Norman said the current antibody testing can’t distinguish between the Novel Coronavirus that underlies the current pandemic, or any other type of human coronavirus that we’ve seen for years. The FDA is working on a functional antibody test. But anything you see out there now is not legit.
Dr. Norman also felt it necessary to address a rumor that Kansas has been “hoarding” testing materials. That’s not true. “We’re at the bottom of the heap for testing materials,” he said. “Those are being directed to other states,” that have a greater need for testing. Kansas ranks 17th per capita on death rate, and near the middle on hospitalizations. He said we’ve still not peaked, and that we’re still on the up slope – but thinks that we’ll soon plateau and hopefully see a drop in cases after that.
There are a number of drive thru testing sites being set up around the state. Again, once we have the materials to do broader population testing, this effort will allow us to reach more people.
Gov. Laura Kelly added that she has asked Kansas Department of Emergency Management to put together a detailed list of our PPE needs. After talking with the White House this week, she has a call with the logistics chair with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She’s hopeful that will help bring more resources into the state. Right now, we’re in a “50-state competition”, and against FEMA. “Because our orders are smaller, we’re losing out to other states,” she said. “FEMA has been directing supplies to New York, Detroit, and New Orleans. We’re not alone, other states, particularly in the Midwest, have the same concerns.”
Kansas Department of Emergency Management
PPE is still the biggest concern for this department. They are working to procure this gear through the public and private sector. There are 220 National Guard soldiers activated and deployed in Kansas. They are performing a variety of tasks – including delivering supplies, transporting testing samples to the KDHE lab, helping set up drive thru testing sites, and assisting local governments. They’ve recently begun purchasing and will deliver bulk food, because food pantries in some areas of the state are facing shortages.
Kansas Department of Commerce
You might have heard that the two primary business loan programs – Payroll Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan – are both out of money. The SBA processed $349 billion in loans in 13 days. That’s more than the SBA total for the past 14 years. The U.S. Treasury is asking Congress for another $250 billion for the programs. Kansas received more than 26,000 loans that represent more than $4.3 billion in new money for small businesses. We were 9th per capita, and that means our local bankers worked their tails off to get these applications processed and approved for our local businesses. The Commerce department is encouraging businesses to fill out PPP and EIDL loan applications so that if more money comes into the pipeline, they’ll be positioned to capture it. To aid in this, the department is keeping its chat function online, and will make technical support available.
The KansasWorks job site has 2,100 jobs listed of employers actively hiring right now. It’s getting a lot of use, and it’s a good idea to check this site often. It contains a mix of hourly jobs and professional positions.
Many communities have deployed loan funds through the Community Development Block Grant program. Republic County has issued 20 loans, and Fort Scott has issued 27. The department is encouraging communities that have access to these funds to use them. “If you were waiting for a rainy day, this is that rainy day,” Secretary David Toland said. If your community doesn’t plan to use the funds, the department would like to talk to you so they can use the funds elsewhere in the state.
Secretary Toland also pointed to a Community Service Tax Credit program that can be leveraged to help non-profit businesses in your community. There is $4.1 million in available funding, with an additional $1 million added by the governor’s office targeting early childhood programs. Visit this site to learn more. There’s also a resource guide for non-profits the department has crafted. I’ve included it below.
Small business owners who haven’t been able to access benefits should see if their communities are utilizing revolving loan funds that might be able to get them by for now. Additionally, they should reach out their local Network Kansas office to learn more about the resources that could be used to help them. Secretary Toland said there’s likely to be additional federal stimulus packages in the near future, but there’s no way to know yet what those might include. It’s always a good idea to stay in close contact with your lender. The financial industry has been very willing to work with people.
Kansas Department of Labor
In the 4th week after everything erupted in Kansas, the department saw 30,786 new unemployment claims. That’s down from last week, following national trends. But overall, in those four weeks, there have been 160,484 initial unemployment claims.
The triage call center now has 150 people on staff – allowing them to handle 4-5 times the daily call volume. There’s a new filing system, known as “gating” that splits users by their last name. This has been deployed in other states, including Colorado, which helped us implement it here. If your last name begins with the letter A-M, file your claim on Sunday, Tuesday, or Thursday. If your last name starts with the letter N-Z, file on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Saturday is reserved for people who haven’t been able to get their claim through during the week. Following this system should reduce greatly the strain that’s been placed on the system.
There are a lot of questions about the federal $600 unemployment money. The department has put that coding into its system, and has been testing it. They expect to be able to start that process and begin process claims next week. Remember that this is a completely new program from the federal government that hadn’t been deployed before now – in an emergency system. The department is also working on implementing the 10 week benefit extension provided by the Kansas legislature this session as well as the 16 week extension from the feds.
There’s another federal plan known as PUA – or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. This is the program that extends benefits to “gig” workers and the self employed, or others who don’t normally qualify for federal benefits.
One of the questions I’ve had is whether we can waive the weekly reporting requirement for benefits. The department sought an answer to this early on, and the U.S. Department of Labor said that the weekly reporting is required. Without federal approval, the state’s hands are tied. The department has loosened guidelines on approval for benefits, but some people will still be denied. Not everyone who applies for benefits is going to qualify. However, there is an appeal process that can be activated if you think a denial was in error.
Governor Laura Kelly
The Governor issued four executive orders this week.
EO 20-22 extends relief for motor carriers to allow them to handle more weight and move more product and supplies.
EO 20-23 brings adult care homes in line with the occupational license exemptions in place for other areas of the state.
EO 20-24 extends the stay at home order until May 3
EO 20-25 replaces EO 20-18, and clarifies some of the guidelines for essential businesses.
There are also some guidance documents for essential businesses that can be found here.
She also acknowledged the letter she received from 43 members of the House of Representatives asking her for her plan to “re-open” the state for business. (I won’t get into some of the background on this “letter” now. That’s a conversation for another day).
Here’s what the governor said, and I think it’s best to let you see her words:
“I’ve read it, and I hear you. I want to say that my team and I have been aware that there needs to be a plan for opening, we’ve been dealing with that from day 1. We’ve been working on a plan. I have been gathering information and best practices, and I’ve asked the National Governor’s Association to gather all the kinds of strategies that states are implementing as we start to reopen and give that to the state. In terms of timeline – we extended the stay home order. Public health concerns might cause us to extend that. But my plan is by May 3 we have a comprehensive strategy, and that we can implement on a regional basis.”
She also said when the state order is lifted, the authority falls back to local health officials to do what’s in the best interest of their communities. And she plans to work with local governments to help them make sound decisions for their communities. In areas with fewer deaths, fewer cases, and less population will be able to adjust differently that areas more directly affected by the virus.
“Any of you who have worked with me know I read a lot and research tings and learn from others. What I’ve done in this case, I’ve studied what happened after the Spanish flu of 1918. What they saw is that the communities that opened really quickly and got back to business as usual struggled more, opposed to those who took a more cautious approach. The turtles won. They over the long run had more robust economies. We know that going too quickly means a resurgence, which means a re-collapse of your economy. We’ll be as aggressive as we think possible. What we need desperately to do this is an expansion of the ability to do testing.”
She also answered a few specific questions.
Are we sitting on federal stockpiles of PPE? “Absolutely not. We got three shipments from the strategic national stockpile, and two weekends ago all of that was dispersed to the counties.”
Did I say that I would not open Kansas until after there’s a vaccine? “Absolutely not. No vaccine is anticipated until next summer. I’m looking at beginning reopening in early May. We may not be able to get back to normal as we know it until there’s a vaccine, but we have every intention of opening up as quickly and widely as we can, while being safe. I know how massive the disruptions are, but as much as I want to get back to normal, we’ll never have a thriving economy if we don’t have healthy Kansans. I will continue to make decisions based on science and fact, and in the long run keep our people healthy.”
Rep. Jason Probst
I’ve heard from a number of you this week about struggles with the unemployment system. The computer was taken offline one day this week, and it seems to be working better now. But if you continue to face trouble with this, please reach out.
I’m going to thow a little commentary in here. I know this is a frustrating time. I know we don’t like being told that we need to stay home. I don’t like it. I know that we like to have some measure of control in our lives, and it seems obnoxious that an invisible virus can wreak so much havoc in our lives. But this growing movement toward forcing states to “reopen” – like what we saw in Michigan and Kentucky this week – is more likely to spread the virus further and extend the need for social distancing even longer. There is a load of information out there about what this virus is, how it behaves, why it’s a concern, and why we need to take these measures. We also have history as a guide. I’ve started reading a book about the history of pandemics – going back to the Black Death. While it might be unfortunate that this has chosen our time to emerge, there is ample history to show that this is something humans face somewhat regularly. Fortunately we’ve learned a great deal from previous pandemics that serve us well today. (The Black Plague, for example, lasted in some form or fashion for 200 years and is where some mitigation practices we’re using now began. Were it not for curious scientists and doctors working to understand the disease, people might have continued to believe it was a curse from God, or a mechanism of the Devil – which was a common explanation for contagious diseases of the time.
I did an interview with a woman recently who talked about the sacrifices she had to make as a child during WWII. She remembered how everything was rationed. Her mom was a baker, and couldn’t get enough sugar coupons to keep her business going. So she traded off her gasoline coupons to someone who didn’t need sugar, but did need to drive. She reminded me that in rough times in our country’s history, Americans have been asked to sacrifice. To be, for a moment, selfless. To consider the broader community around them, and the well being of their neighbors and countrymen and women. To think beyond the discomfort of today, and to consider what role we each might play in the better comfort of tomorrow.