Update: State response to Covid-19
I just wrapped up a conference call with Gov. Laura Kelly and members of her cabinet. It was very informative, and offered some good information. I thought I’d share some of the highlights with you.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment
The number of new Covid-19 cases has increased by 138 in two days. It’s doubling about every three days. The reason they’re pushing so hard for social distancing is that they’d like to see that doubling stretched out to every 8-10 days. If roughly 55% of Kansans reduce their contact with others, we can reach that. And at that level of doubling, the state has enough hospital beds, ventilators, and staff to handle new infections. If we continue to double every three days, there’s a chance we won’t.
The biggest challenge right now is the short supply of personal protection equipment for healthcare workers. Kansas just received some gear from national stockpile – and KDHE is going to work over the weekend to disperse it to the counties by Tuesday. So far, no county has been getting its full supply. Secretary Lee Norman said it’s not an issue of money – it’s a matter of supply chains. He also said that some calls are coming from people/companies that are trying to sell masks to the state for too much money.
There have been some clusters of the Covid-19, including a church in Northeast Kansas that has left some participants infected. “Some of those people have scattered to the wind, and returned to your counties,” Secretary Norman said in stressing the need to observe the stay in place order.
The biggest challenges have been access to Covid-19 tests, and the swabs needed to collect material from patients. The Secretary explained that the swabs can’t have wood or cotton, because they contain their own DNA and it muddles the test. There are only two companies that make useable swabs, and they are overwhelmed. But we have started getting some of the rapid tests, and hospitals have started to do some of their own testing. Secretary Norman said the next level will be to stand up testing sites that can test people who don’t have symptoms and get better population testing.
Secretary Norman said he didn’t realize the stir he’d cause with his mention of the social distancing tracking via the website Unacast. He also explained that he learned about the site from his 10-year-old grandson, who used the site as part of a school project. He saw what the site did – that it was publicly available for free – and thought it might be a good way for his department to predict where emerging needs might be as it relates to the Covid-19 virus.
Kansas National Guard
The National Guard has been working to deliver supplies to counties. There are 72 Guard members actively working right now. They are supporting the state’s emergency operations center, and getting supplies to counties at a rate of about 25-30 counties each day. There have been rumors that the Guard is mobilizing for some sort of severe lockdown, but the agency reported today that the Guard is not “running amock.”
The Guard and Adjutant General’s office has also placed a number of orders for protective gear – including 3.5 million N95 masks, and 2 million face shields, as well as huge volumes of other gear.
They have set up a second emergency operations center to deal with other emergencies that emerge during the pandemic. They don’t want to be overwhelmed if we experience a tornado or flood. This week, the guard helped battle a wildfire in SW Kansas – deploying a Blackhawk helicopter to help with fire suppression.
The Guard is also working with KDHE and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to convert closed hospitals and nursing homes into emergency hospital wards to treat people who become infected with Covid-19.
The primary effort right now for this group is getting more PPE for healthcare workers, and getting that material delivered out to counties.
Kansas Department of Commerce
The HIRE program to help the hospitality industry processed 1,100 applications in 24 hours and used up $5 million very quickly. Secretary David Toland said the agency is still accepting applications – both in case there’s another round of funding available and to gather data on the depth of the need in this industry.
The department has trained additional staff to help process business loand applications that are part of the Congressional CARES Act. The number of businesses in need of this help right now is tremendous. Beginning at noon Monday, business owners will be able to call the Commerce Department for help in navigating the process. The number is 800-659-2955.
The agency has also streamlined the Community Development Block Grant program to allow communities to get money directly to businesses for working capital. They’ve also indicated that the Incentive Without Walls program (part of the Main Street program in Commerce) could be used to provide working capital to employers.
The CARES Act has a number of provisions in it, and Commerce is working with local lenders to help them understand federal guidance on the Economic Inury Disaster Loans and the Payroll Protection Program. Aside from loans, the program also includes tax credits for retaining employees, and allows for a delay in payment of some payroll taxes.
Kansas Works offices are closed to walk in traffic, but staff continues to work through it chat feature at kansasworks.com. That team has also been cross-trained to answer questions about unemployment benefits.
Commerce is also working with employers who are in need of employees – and they’ve created a web site that lists those employers in need of workers.
Kansas Department of Labor
Secretary Delia Garcia explained that the agency has been overwhelmed with the number of calls and applications that have come in this week. In fact, most labor departments throughout the country are facing simliar challenges. On Monday alone, the department had 877,000 calls. In two weeks, more than 79,000 unemployment applications have come in.
In response, the agency has doubled its staff to handle the claims. They’ve reassigned some staff, and other agencies – such as Commerce and Ag – are chipping in with staff to help out. They also are adding additional hours from 8-10 a.m. on Saturday to help handle the call volume.
When possible, employers can streamline the process by filing with spreadsheet. This allows information about all affected employees to be processed at once – and can help with processing time. In addition to unemployment benefits, the department is working with companies to tap into the state’s workshare program, which extends pay to employees both from the company and state resources.
The best place to start on your unemployment benefit process. or find answers for most of your questions, is the website www.getkansasbenefits.gov
If you don’t have internet access, don’t speak English, are a member of the Military, or have recently moved to Kansas, call 800-292-6333.
There are lot of questions about the additional $600 unemployment benefits in the CARES Act. But so far, the federal department of labor hasn’t issued any guidance on how to apply these benefits. As soon as those guidelines come down from Washington, our state will have a better understanding of how those fold into our existing unemployment system.
Secretary Garcia encouraged everyone to follow the Department of Labor on social media. They update the site with new information daily, and hold a live event on Facebook each Wednesday.
Gov. Laura Kelly
Gov. Kelly reiterated that the state didn’t develp any tracking software, and doesn’t have any stake in sites like Unacast or Google, both of which are using their resources to chart movement amidst the pandemic. This is aggregate data that is being used to anticipate where to deploy resources, and see if the messaging about social distancing is effective in certain areas. (This is my statement on this – if you are worried about this, shut off location services on your phone. And remember – your phone has giving companies your information for years).
State employees will return to work next week, mostly remotely, but state offices will largely remain closed to the public.
As she issues executive orders, she is eager to hear feedback about how they’re applied in communities. She understands that some areas of the state are different than others and that in some cases there needs to be some adjustment. She’s open to amending orders when feedback indicates a change is needed.
The Secretary of Revenue will not assess fines or penalties on estimated taxes from April through July. This includes income, corporate, and privlege taxes. Sales tax collections will continue as normal, because that is essentially a pass through.
Her staff is preparing to apply some of the federal money that will soon come in from the most recent stimulus package. Additionally, the office is working to determine what needs must be considered in anticipated subsequent rounds of stimulas packages.
The Kansas Essential Function Framework (KEFF) email has recieved more than 1,000 requests from businesses asking to be deemed essential. They’ve answered about 800 thus far. If you have questions about whether your business fits the essential framework, email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also get some answers at this website.
Me (Rep. Jason Probst)
Those are the high points from today’s meeting. If you have any questions or issues, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or on social media. Or by calling 620-259-3972. Take care of yourselves, and stay healthy.
I’ll include some previously shared links below:
Reset passwords – https://www.getkansasbenefits.gov/ContactFormClaimant.aspx
Business information help – https://www.getkansasbenefits.gov/ContactForm.aspx.
Business questions about work share – KDOL.SharedWork@ks.gov
KDOL FAQ at https://www.getkansasbenefits.gov/FAQs.aspx.
Weekly claim information – https://klic.dol.ks.gov/gsipub/index.asp?docid=735
Information on places that are hiring: https://www.kansascommerce.gov/covid-19-response/covid-19-jobs-and-hiring-portal/
Information on business resources: https://www.kansascommerce.gov/covid-19-response/
Kansas Department of Health and Environment is still your best resource for information. There are daily updates, and useful information for families and business. https://govstatus.egov.com/coronavirus
Additionally, there’s a new map and data site that is updated daily. This provides considerably more information about the spread of Covid-19 in Kansas. This is the map for April 1, but you can access the map through the main KDHE Coronavirus site.
Executive Orders issued by Gov. Laura Kelly https://governor.kansas.gov/newsroom/executive-orders/
Kansas Department of Education https://www.ksde.org/
And Kansas State Board of Education https://www.ksde.org/Board
Here is an explainer on the federal PPP –
Here is an explainer on the EIDL program –