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Kansas health officials on Thursday announced three men in Johnson County have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the state’s total confirmed cases to four.
Anticipated spread of the illness has disrupted schedules for universities, public schools, sporting events, parades and other activities as cautious leaders try to avoid worst-case scenarios. So far, there has been no local transmission of COVID-19 in Kansas.
The latest confirmed cases involve Johnson County residents who returned in late February from a conference in Florida where others now are known to have been infected by the coronavirus.
Mary Beverly, interim health director for Johnson County, said the men showed symptoms in early March and took appropriate precautions to avoid spreading the illness. The men, who are between the ages of 35 and 65, are in isolation, and their family members are being monitored.
She said the condition of the three men wasn’t currently serious but that symptoms were subject to change.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Lee Norman said the agency is testing 12-15 individuals per day at its lab in Topeka. The lab has the capacity to test up to 150 per day if needed.
"We're kind of entering what I call the new normal as a state," Norman said.
He stressed that nobody has been infected by the virus while in Kansas. A Johnson County woman who tested positive last week was infected while traveling in the northeast region of the country. She has been admitted to the University of Kansas hospital for treatment.
Health officials advise proper hygiene as the best precaution and wearing a mask if you are sick.
"Our goal is to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 throughout the community so our health care system does not get overwhelmed, and we keep the number of cases low," Beverly said. "People should exercise vigilance when attending mass gatherings."
U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat from the 3rd District, which includes Johnson County, said "everyone has a role to place in reducing the spread."
"The safety of Kansans has always been, and will continue to be, my top priority," Davids said. "My office has been in close contact with local and state public health officials, who are working around the clock to contain these cases and any others that may occur. We are committed to doing everything we can to keep our community safe, prepared and informed."
Legislative leaders were considering the possibility of altering the schedule of the current session if the spread of the virus worsens. Options include an abrupt halt in action ahead of the planned April 3 adjournment. Leadership would evaluate whether to return on April 26 as planned, or wait until later in May.
Laura McCabe, spokeswoman for Senate President Susan Wagle, said leadership planned to recommend, but not mandate, that large tours postpone their visits to the Capitol. Leaders of both chambers and the governor are working with Norman, she said, and following his advice.
Norman said there was no need yet for the Legislature to close.
Several lawmakers canceled town hall discussions they planned to hold later this month, citing concerns with COVID-19.
Anxiety over the virus found its way to the daily prayer offered by the Rev. Cecil T. Washington, who serves as chaplain for the Kansas Senate. On Wednesday, he preached to lawmakers about seeking the Lord’s guidance.
"They say the virus is likely to have a 1 to 2% fatality rate," Washington said, "but what do you say? Some say the seriousness is drastically underrated, while others are saying it’s severely over-rated. But still, what do you say? Some say we should stay home and avoid the public. Others are saying, ’Just don’t shake hands while we do business as usual.’ But most importantly, what do you say?’
"One set of experts is telling us one thing, while another set is saying something different — when to wear masks, and what kind, or when not to wear them. Lord, you have the words of life. In Genesis 1, all you did was speak, and the entire world was formed. So Lord, all you have to do now is speak.
"So, while others are saying whatever it is they have to say, the question is still what do you say?"