Update – Kansas Covid-19 response May 8, 2020
Information from this week’s call with Gov. Laura Kelly and members of her cabinet.
Dr. Lee Norman said Kansas currently has 6,501 cases, up 357 from the previous day. We have 152 deaths, up 5 from the previous day. There are currently 76 clusters being monitored, which account for just less than half of all cases in the state. The breakdown is: 31 from private companies, 22 from long-term care, 8 from churches, 2 from group living arrangements, 3 from health care, and the correctional facilities, with most of those cases coming from Lansing Correctional Facility. The inmate testing is complete at Lansing, and roughly half the inmates tested positive for Covid-19.
Dr. Norman encouraged anyone who is symptomatic to get tested. And remember that fever and cough are not always present, so if you have other symptoms, get tested.
The demands on epidemiologists to crunch data is prompted a change in the frequency of reporting of cases. From now on, KDHE will update the information on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday around noon. This is so staff can spend more time working to help local health departments do case investigation and contact tracing. We currently have about 25 KDHE staff and 210 volunteers trained to do this work, with more to follow.
The state has a sterilization process in place, contracting with a company to clean for reuse N-95 masks. There still aren’t enough of those to go around, so this allows hospitals and healthcare providers to clean the masks for reuse. We currently can do about 10,000 each day, and could scale up to 18,000 per day. This is free to all healthcare systems, and will be in place for at least the next six months.
KU School of Engineering is working with the state to test wastewater for fragments of Covid-19. Hiawatha reported finding trace virus in its wastewater earlier this week. Dr. Norman said this can serve as an early warning system to know if the virus is being shed in a community, even if there aren’t positive cases. It might serve as a way to alert early the re-emergence of the virus as well. This process originated in Massachusetts and the Netherlands, and is specific to Covid-19. The virus doesn’t survive in wastewater, so isn’t a transmission threat. As we see decreases over the summer, this is a tool to learn early if the virus is returning to a community in the fall or winter.
Dr. Norman said that the per capita hospitalization and death rates is trending favorably, which is what we need to move forward in the phased opening. He was asked if we’ve seen an increase since Phase 1, and so far the answer is no. But he cautioned that it typically takes 14 days to see any “backsliding.”
He was also asked if it’s prudent for cities to create ordinances about the wearing of masks. He didn’t offer legal advice on this, but said from a public health perspective, the safest thing one can do is wear a mask outside of one’s home. However, following social distancing guidelines, hand washing, and not being around too many people at once goes a long way toward protection.
Kansas Department of Emergency Management
This agency is still helping to deliver PPE and transport tests to the KDHE lab. They are also helping out with food pantries, and packing weekend meal kits for kids in the state. Additionally, they are on alert for the “normal” Kansas things that happen this time of year – such as fires, floods, and bad storms.
The biggest PPE issue now is surgical gowns. KDEM is working on getting more to the state.
There are 664 National Guard members activated. This weekend, they helped pack 535,000 meal kits for kids. They are also still delivering PPE to local governments, and have helped screen inmates at Lansing Correctional Facility.
Kansas Department of Commerce
Secretary David Toland said that the state secured more than 184,000 PPP loans in the second round, with the average amount $44,000. Between the first and second rounds of PPP, the state has secured $5.1B in federal funds for Kansas businesses. The draw down of these funds has slowed somewhat, because some businesses have been able to open. There’s still about $100 billion left in PPP, and businesses are encouraged to work with their lender to secure the funds they need.
On Monday, the department will announce details of $9 million in Community Development Block Grant funds that will be available. Applications will open on Tuesday, May 11 at kansascommerce.gov. These funds are designed to help local businesses retain jobs. Communities will be able to grant $300,000 to existing businesses to pay for wages, rent, utilities, and some other business expenses. A second grant of up to $100,000 will be directed toward meal programs, such as Meals on Wheels, Food Banks, and programs to feed children. The grants will be given to the communities, who will in turn grant them to organizations. It is a first-come, first-serve process until the funds are depleted. You can visit the commerce site and ask questions on their chat feature.
There’s also about $500,000 in funding for the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry. It’s called SOS, or Short-term Operational Support. The department reports that 7,700 people have lost employment in these fields, and that tourism activity is down about 80 percent from the previous year. Commerce is working with the Tourism department and the Travel Industry Association of Kansas to help support this industry. This funding is provided through the federal CARES program, and is designed to support operational needs for arts and entertainment organizations affected by Covid-19. Applications will be taken until May 15, and can be found at kansascommerce.gov.
Kansas Department of Labor
New initial claims continue to fall, but weekly claims are as high as 475,000. So far the agency has paid out $144 million in unemployment claims, with another $73 million in federal $600 payments. The department has paid out about half of those federal funds from the past 7 weeks, and they’re working on processing back claims. There are some limitations on how much can be sent out each day – about $75 million. So they have developed a staggered system to address this for filing back claims. If your last name starts with a letter between A-G, file after noon on Sunday; between H-M file Monday; between N-S, file Tuesday; and between T-Z, file Wednesday. This will allow those back payments to be processed sooner.
The PUA – or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program – will begin on May 12. This is unemployment for the self-employed, gig workers, and others who don’t qualify for ordinary unemployment benefits.
They also worked administrative to ensure that first responders are covered by workers compensation for Covid-19 related illness. It was rejected by the Attorney General. The department continues to work with that office to extend this protection.
Recovery office efforts/task force
Ryan Wright, senior staff for Gov. Kelly, talked about the recovery task force efforts. He explained that the federal money to states has two paths – one enhances federal programs, such as CDGB, and the other is direct grants to state. The money can’t be used to fill budget shortfalls, but must be spent to cover Covid-19 related expenses, expenses not accounted for in the budget, and costs that were incurred after March 1. The money has to be spent by Dec. 30. It totals $1.25 billion, and only 45% can be spent with local units of government. Two counties – Johnson and Sedgwick – are large enough that they received money directly from the federal government. All other money will come through the task force. However, he said the task force’s top priority will be to quickly get money flowing to Kansas communities. All of this information will be available on the covid.ks.gov website.
Gov. Laura Kelly
There were no executive orders this week related to Covid-19, but she did issue one ordering that flags be flown half staff for the death of first responders. This week, she orders flags lowered to honor the death of an Overland Park police officer Mike Mosher was killed.
The governor’s daily press briefings will be reduced to Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. She’ll appear alongside Dr. Lee Norman. This falls in line with the change in the case reports.
Gov. Kelly also selected Cheryl Harrison Lee to lead the Recovery Office as executive director. She also appointed former Manhattan Chamber of Commerce director Lyle Butler to serve as head of the recovery task force.
She was specifically asked about speeding up the phasing in of barbers and stylists. The governor explained that when they developed the phased in approach to reopening, it was built around the ability to maintain social distancing, and making distinctions between essential (such as health care) and non-essential services. It’s impossible to maintain distance in this case, so they included that in phase 2, scheduled to begin on May 18. “I know they want to open up,” she said. “I want them to open up, too….We wanted two weeks to see how it works opening up some other things and feel comfortable opening up barbers and stylists.”
She also addressed questions about graduations. They don’t fall anywhere under phase 1. Under phase 2, in the mass gathering outlines, outdoor graduations could be permitted.
Rep. Jason Probst
I don’t have much to add to this week’s report – outside of maybe two points. First, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Please take the time to read and critically process information before sharing it with others. It’s hard enough to wrap our minds around all of this without also having to sort through a bunch of information that is false. Secondly, the strain of all of this, I think, is getting to a lot of people. Myself included. But we can chose to be kind. We might not always be, but if we try, we will be more often than if we don’t try.
As always, if I can be of any help, let me know.