Update – Kansas Covid-19 response May 1, 2020

Hi everyone – I just finished up the weekly call with Gov. Laura Kelly, and will run through some of the highlights.

As most everyone knows, the Governor announced a 3-phase approach to reopening the state. The stay at home order has been lifted, but there are still restrictions on mass gatherings and social distancing. Some businesses will be allowed to operate under these guidelines in Phase 1, while others will need to wait until Phase 2 or 3. I won’t try to explain all the details here, but I will include the graphic put together by Rep. Jeff Pittman that explains the movement within the phases. And the site covid.ks.gov contains a wealth of information in one place.

The Governor’s staff clarified some questions people had:

  • Restaurants can open, and they are not limited to a total of 10 people inside the building. They can have up to 10 people at a table. But every table needs to be six feet away from every other table. Restaurants that have back-to-back booths can have people in those booths if there’s a physical barrier between them (like plexiglass). There are industry guidelines on the site covid.ks.gov and it’s recommended to follow industry specific best practices.
  • Organized sports don’t resume until phase 2, and that includes baseball practice. The goal is to avoid situations that bring a lot of people together from a lot of different households, so organized sports have to wait to the second phase. Smaller groups of people playing tennis, catch, etc., is acceptable.
  • Self-service food and drink is not addressed in the governors plan, except that consession stands for sporting events can’t allow patrons to self-serve condiments. An employee either needs to take care of this, or individual packets can be given out.
  • Zoos, dance studios, bowling alleys and bars/clubs won’t open until phase 2.
  • Bar/grill establishments that serve food can open in phase 1, but must follow the same social distancing guidelines in place for restaurants. A bar area, for example, that is used also to serve food can be open under social distancing guidelines, but a dance floor should remain closed. (As soon as possible, I’m going to eat all the Carl’s french fries).
  • Churches are not subject to the 10 person mass gathering limit, but within the church social distancing must be followed. And they must deploy deep cleaning protocols.
  • Things like wedding receptions – you could have one, technically, but the typical venues for these, such as community centers, won’t reopen until phase 2. For events like this, it’s a two-prong consideration between whether a venue is allowed to open under the phase in plan, and whether social distancing can be maintained.
  • The governor worked closely with all sectors of the business community to develop these guidelines. She praised their proactive efforts to help the state develop a plan to move forward.

The governor also issued several new executive orders

EO 20-28 – Reissues the previous executive orders that were set to expire May 1, and extends the disaster declaration another 15 days.

EO 20-29 – Enacts the Ad Astra phase 1plan for reopening and lifts the stay at home order. This order will remain in effect until May 14. It will give the state finance council an opportunity to extend the emergency declaration, and protects federal resources that come to our state as a result of the initial emergency declaration. Further extension would require a legislative resolution.

There were a number of direct questions sent to the governor.

If cases are increasing, why are we even considering lifting restrictions? The governor said that the metrics we’re looking at show that we’ve seen sustained decreased in hospitilizations and deaths. As we test more, we will see more cases. We’re already testing more this week than the week before. Additionally, there’s comfort in our hospital capacity’s ability to handle any Covid-19 related surges. And we have ramped up aggressive teams for contact tracing. “I’m comfortable that we’ll have the ability to trace and prevent the spread of the disease,” Gov. Kelly said. Dr. Norman indicated that we are on track to have up to 400 people working on contact tracing. We’ve already trained 140 people, with more coming online in the coming days and weeks. This helps us find anyone who’s come in contact with an infected person, and more effectively mitigate the spread.

There was a question about unemployment benefits if an employee has been called back to work, but doesn’t feel safe because of underlying health concerns. The Kansas Department of Labor is looking at how to manage such situations, which will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The governor said they understand they will likely find some legitimate concerns from people who have pre-exisiting illness that places them in a high-risk category for Covid-19.

There was also a question about the state’s ability to move the May 10 property tax payment deadline. The Kansas Department of Revenue is exploring options, and working with counties to be senstive to those who might struggle to meet this deadline. There are no provisions in current statue that give the department the ability to move this deadline. The Attorney General has been asked to issue an opinion on whether the Governor could move this deadline through administrative or executive order. Gov. Kelly also indicated that she’s in converation with the Kansas Association of Counties to find consensus within its membership on how to manage this.

A question was raised about when people might be able to visit aging relatives in long term care communities. The Governor responded: “I completely understand and it’s heartbreaking to see pictures of families outside just trying to put a hand on the window for some contact. This is a tough one. The problem is that nursing homes have been our biggest hot bed of outbreaks. It’s where we’ve seen the biggest numbers, in that congregant setting. As we are able to do more testing, there will come a time when we can ease that up. But we are not there yet.” (My additional commentary: One of my “real” jobs has involved getting some of these stories from long term care communities. I am amazed at how much staff cares and is concerned for the well being of their residents. And I’ve been incredibly impressed with how they’ve found creative uses of technology to keep residents in contact with their families).

And there was a question about the Governor’s hair, which many people noticed had been styled ahead of her televised speech Thursday. She said that she doesn’t die her hair – though once in college she tried to highlight it a bit with lemon juice, an effort she quickly abandoned. “By a stroke of luck, I had a (haircut) appointment scheduled one day before the start of the stay at home order. So I had a decent start. I have had my hair trimmed. He’s a licensed physician who happens to be my husband. He’s an Eagle Scout and there’s nothing he can’t do. Here’s a link to the story that contains additional information about the Great Kansas Haircut Scandal. 🙂

Dr. Norman early in the call said Kansas is up to 4,449 cases, up 211 from the previous day, 130 deaths, up one from the day before, and are monitoring 60 different cluster infections.

Infections have spread throughout the Lansing Correctional Facility, with more than 75 percent of those tested returning positive. Over the weekend, Norman said, we’ll test 2,000 people – covering all inmates and staff, and that will help determine how to better manage the contaigan inside the facility.

He also said that since the state has secured 500,000 test kits and multiple decontamination chambers that will allow several reuses of the N95 masks, we’ve turned a corner on testing and securing adequate PPP. The state will still work to secure additional PPP, but these efforts will serve as “a belt and suspenders.” The N95 decontamination program will be free to all Kansas health care facilities.

The governor finished the call by saying she understands how frustrating this is for everyone.

“We’re doing all we can to take care Kansans. I know it’s incredibly frustrating time. You are concerned and your constituents are concerned. I’ve been there. I am there. But we need to stay the course for awhile. I’m afraid we might not be going to back to anything normal before there’s a vaccine developed, and that’s not likely to happen before the end of the year. In the meantime we must stay vigilant and flexible. This virus is what’s really in control. I do hope that through this phase there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. I want to continue to work with you as we get Kansas though this and emerge stronger.”

3 Comments

  • Posted May 2, 2020
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    Gary Withrow

    Jason, send me a new T-Shirt, I will send you a check. I really appreciate what and how you are doing.
    Gary

  • Posted May 2, 2020
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    Marlys Bernard

    I KNEW there would be people criticizing the Governor for her hair!! She knew it too, and had that covered! Seriously, folks, with the whole Virus issue, isn’t it a little petty to be concerned about Governor Kelly’s hair? She is wise: she KNEW someone would comment on that. I wasn’t surprised it came from Sedgwick County – just by the legislator from that county!

  • Posted May 2, 2020
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    Susan Jarsulic

    You aren’t my rep but you’re my go to guy for these updates. Thanks

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