State has 500 test kits and will run out by weekend without renewed supply, which congressional delegation says is coming; health secretary expects cases to be in 100s within a month
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TOPEKA — Kansas health secretary Lee Norman said Wednesday he expects the number of COVID-19 infections in the state to balloon in the coming weeks, and he raised concerns about dwindling supplies of test kits and medical equipment.
The state’s reserve of test kits is down to 500, Norman said, with about 150 being used per day. He said he expects more to be delivered based on commitments by the Kansas congressional delegation.
Within a month, Norman said, the number of confirmed cases in Kansas could be above 100.
Norman provided the update on efforts to contain the pandemic during a news conference in which he outlined new strategies for testing. State health officials have documented 22 cases of infection among Kansas residents, not including at least two positive tests of out-of-state visitors.
Johnson County, where there have been 12 positive tests, now has widespread community transmission, Norman said. As a result, and because of limited supplies, only people who require hospitalization will be tested in Johnson County.
"When there's wide enough spread, what's the point?" Norman said. "We know what it is."
A review by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment found that medical facilities across the state have a total of 168 ventilators and 102 isolation rooms with restricted airflow. Only the most seriously ill will need those supplies, Norman said.
The Biosecurity Research Institute at Kansas State University is lending lab technicians to KDHE’s Topeka-based lab, where a third testing machine is being installed. KDHE staff are acting as couriers to transport tests from western Kansas counties back to the capital.
KDHE this week delivered protective equipment to counties in need, depleting the state’s stockpile, Norman said. The $5.9 million in federal aid earmarked for medical supplies in Kansas hasn’t arrived yet.
"This is a complicated effort, and it’s going to get more complicated," Norman said.
Norman said Kansas retrieved 10 state residents, from seven households in five counties, who had been quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. KDHE staff greeted them at the airport with protective equipment and escorted the individuals to their cars. None has shown symptoms of the coronavirus, and all are under mandatory home isolation.
KDHE mandated Wednesday its earlier recommendation for residents to quarantine at home for 14 days if they visit certain areas on or after March 15. The isolation is required for those who travel to California, Florida, New York and Washington state, as well as those on a cruise ship or river cruise. The order also applies to those who visited Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Gunnison counties in Colorado the week before March 15 and anytime after.
The Kansas Supreme Court ordered all district and appellate courts to cease operations for at least two weeks with the lone exception of jury trials already underway.
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Laura Kelly announced she was banning evictions and foreclosures for the next six weeks, adding to her administration's response to the unprecedented health crisis caused by COVID-19.
The executive order, which the governor signed earlier in the week without making it public, prohibited mortgage foreclosures by financial institutions operating in Kansas, as well as commercial and residential evictions. The order is in effect until May 1.
"We understand that this pandemic is creating unprecedented challenges for people across the state," Kelly said. "Kansas families need our support, and my administration is committed to doing everything it can to make sure Kansans can stay in their homes and businesses. It’s a necessary step to further protect Kansans’ health and safety."
The Kansas Senate responded to Kelly’s latest executive branch actions by passing a resolution limiting the governor’s emergency power. Senate Republicans argued the Democratic governor was unilaterally wading into areas that could infringe on individual freedom and undermine the free-market economy.
"I think there needs to be a measured response," Sen. Mike Thompson, a Kansas City-area Republican who was irritated some funeral homes had voluntarily closed. "Apparently, everybody is supposed to wait to die for two weeks because of this situation."
Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, came to the support of Kelly and denounced efforts by some lawmakers to politicize the state’s response. "It’s not a hoax. It’s not made up," Pettey said.
Kelly also has issued executive orders to close public schools, limit mass gatherings and block utilities from disconnecting services. She also announced state workers under her supervision will be sent home for two weeks, starting Monday.
The Senate altered a House-passed extension of the governor’s executive powers for when the Legislature wasn’t in session. Senators voted first to adopt an amendment offered by Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, blocking seizure of ammunition by the governor.
Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, convinced a majority in the Senate to amend the measure to keep the governor from raiding city and county government accounts, forbid seizure of private property, block orders to move livestock and people, and prohibit movement of alcoholic beverages during the crisis.
Critics of the Senate’s maneuvering said it would be dangerous to block a governor from ordering quarantine areas and appeared to be an partisan slap at the Democratic governor. Supporters of these broader limitations said they were alarmed by Kelly’s support for the closure of schools and casinos as well as banning foreclosures and evictions.
"We need to make sure as a legislative body that we are not overreacting," Tyson said. "We don’t just turn over blanket authority. We can’t rely on the government to tell us every little move to make."
House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, said some members of his Republican caucus were concerned with the governor’s orders.
"Leadership wants to make it clear that we are doing everything possible to retain maximum oversight and flexibility in the legislative branch," Hawkins said. "Accountability is good for Kansans."
Sen. Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat and an attorney, said the foreclosure element of Kelly’s executive order was questionable because the judiciary was a separate branch of state government. "I’d question whether she has that power," Miller said.
Lawmakers were working to reconcile differences between competing budgets passed by the Senate and House, and wrap up other high-priority legislation before adjourning early — possibly late Wednesday or early Thursday.
"We could have been done with all of this days ago," said Democratic Rep. Stephanie Clayton, who tweeted her frustrations. "We are all risking not only our health, but the health of staff, our families, and our constituents when we return home. Anyone who is trying any nonessential legislation today is trash. I have spoken."