Gov. Laura Kelly recently issued a statewide “stay home” order, which is an important part of the ongoing effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.
In doing so, she cited several reasons, including the need to prevent overburdening the health care system, and to buy more time to help secure necessary medical supplies.
At the same time that our own state’s “stay home” order takes effect, there are more and more examples of support being expressed for health care workers who are on the front lines of this battle.
That is gratifying and well deserved. Every day, health care workers take care of the most vulnerable among us—people who are anxious, people who are scared, people who do not have the resources to pay for their services.
We put health care workers in often-impossible situations, asking them to do more with less, and then look over their shoulders as they navigate this difficult terrain. In short, we take them for granted on a regular basis.
I hope that as we move forward in this very difficult environment, that attitude vanishes. I hope that we recognize health care workers as the best among us: as people who run toward a problem instead away from it; as people who care for members of their community every hour of every day; as people who prioritize the health of their patients ahead of personal security. At the very least, we owe them that.
If you agree that our Kansas health care workers deserve our support, there is a very simple but important way you can express that support. It is a fact that social isolation and distancing will help reduce the spread of the virus and limit the exposure of vulnerable individuals.
Following Gov. Kelly’s “stay home” order is the one thing the rest of us can do to support our health care workers and the health of our state.
Tom Bell is the president and CEO of the Kansas Hospital Association.
People who attended the Kansas East Jurisdiction’s 2020 Ministers and Workers Conference at the Miracle Temple Church of God in Christ at 2106 Quindaro Blvd, Kansas City, Kansas, from March 16 to 22 may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), according to the Kansas Department of Health.
This event has been identified as a place of exposure for multiple people in Kansas who have since become ill and tested positive for COVID-19, according to a KDHE spokesman. Wyandotte County’s stay-at-home order did not go into effect until March 24.
Symptoms for COVID-19 appear 2-14 days after exposure and include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Other rarer symptoms that may develop include malaise, sore throat and diarrhea.
If you develop any of these symptoms, but are not ill enough to seek medical care, you must stay home for at least 7 days after symptoms started or for 72 hours after fever is gone (without the use of fever-reducing medication) and with a significant improvement in symptoms, whichever is longer, a KDHE spokesman stated.
If you develop these symptoms and need to seek medical care, call your health care provider beforehand to inform them that you may have been exposed to COVID-19 and require medical attention.
If you attended this event and develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19 between 2 and 14 days later, call your local health department and they will conduct a confidential investigation to prevent further transmission of COVID-19, a KDHE spokesman stated.
For more information about COVID-19 in Kansas, visit www.kdheks.gov/coronavirus. For questions regarding isolation and quarantine for COVID-19, contact your local health department or KDHE’s Epidemiology Hotline at 877-427-7317.
The UG Health Department, in a news release, asked anyone who had been to the church event and who developed symptoms to do one of three actions:
Call the Southwest Boulevard Family Health Care COVID-19 hotline: 913-396-7070.
According to the Unified Government Public Health Department, people who develop symptoms should stay home while they are sick, and for 10 days after symptoms are gone, including after fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medication. If you develop these symptoms and need to seek medical care, call your health care provider beforehand to inform them that you may have been exposed to COVID-19 and require medical attention.
Dr. Allen Greiner, chief medical officer for the Unified Government Public Health Department, stated in the news release that community members and organizations need to be aware of the importance of social distancing and abiding by the stay-at-home order.
“If we want to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Wyandotte, it is absolutely critical that community organizations like churches, businesses, and all of our community members stay home as much as possible, avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, and maintain a 6-foot distance between people in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We know this is disruptive to daily life, but it is necessary to protect our community.”
In other COVID-19 news today, Mayor David Alvey stated on a Facebook video presentation that some persons have been reported as not observing the six-foot social distancing rule while gathering at Wyandotte County Lake.
He said this rule will be enforced beginning this weekend. Violators could face as much as a $500 fine. The violation is a misdemeanor.
Besides maintaining a six-foot social distance, residents cannot gather in groups of 10 or more under the “stay-at-home” order.
Dr. Greiner reported on the video that a couple of large businesses in the community had positive cases, and that a unit of the UG had a positive case. The Health Department is tracking the cases, and there could be a need to quarantine contacts, he said.
He emphasized good personal hygiene and staying six feet away from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Governor announces order to allow residents to draw down on federal unemployment resources
Gov. Laura Kelly today announced an executive order to allow Kansans to draw down on new federal resources for unemployment insurance. Unemployment claims statewide jumped from 1,800 per week to around 60,000 on Sunday.
Kansas reported 428 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, an increase of 60 cases from the 368 positive cases reported in the state on Monday.
One more COVID-19 death was reported in the state, bringing the state total to nine. Thirty-nine counties now have at least one positive case, Gov. Kelly said in a news teleconference today.
Wyandotte County reported 75 total cases as of 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, while the state reported 79 Wyandotte County cases a little later on Tuesday. There have been four COVID-19 related deaths in Wyandotte County.
Later today, at 4:45 p.m., the UG COVID-19 website reported 89 positive cases in Wyandotte County.
Johnson County reported 134 cases on Tuesday, according to KDHE figures this morning. Johnson County now has three COVID-19 deaths, according to its website.
Gov. Kelly addressed economic effects of the pandemic at the news conference. There are widespread layoffs throughout the state accompanying stay-at-home orders.
“The Kansas Department of Labor is experiencing an unprecedented influx of calls from Kansas workers who need to file for unemployment benefits,” Gov. Kelly said.
“Please remember that virtually overnight, the customer service representatives went from a historically low unemployment period, which had lasted for well over a year, to the highest call volumes we have ever seen, higher even than the height of the great recession,” she said.
The state unemployment phone lines have been swamped, and officials are asking people to use the website, www.getkansasbenefits.gov/, if possible. Filing online is the quickest way to get benefits, she said.
The KDOL is receiving more than 230,000 calls every day, she said. “That is like every resident of Topeka Lawrence and Emporia calling every day,” she added.
“Just yesterday, they received over 877,000 calls,” she said. “This isn’t just a spike in numbers, it’s unprecedented.”
Gov. Kelly said the state has doubled its capacity at its call centers, employees are working expanded hours, and they are adding phone lines. Also, they are moving employees from other agencies to help in this effort, she said.
She asked people to be patient with the large call volumes. It will take some time to provide additional capacity, she said. For those who do call instead of visiting the website, she urged them to be patient and wait and not hang up.
“Taking applications is just the first step,” she said. “We also need to ensure that every roadblock is removed so we make things as seamless as possible for our businesses and those seeking unemployment benefits. This really is no time for bureaucratic red tape.”
The federal stimulus legislation will provide $600 more in benefits a week, more than doubling what they would have received. It also makes more residents eligible for unemployment, including gig workers and small business owners, she said.
Gov. Kelly’s executive order will waive some requirements in state law that could delay residents from immediately getting unemployment benefits, according to the governor.
The waiting week requirement for benefits is temporarily waived under the governor’s order; and the requirement that all those receiving unemployment benefits actively seek work each week is temporarily waived, according to the executive order.
The order also says all employers are required to provide notification of the potential availability of unemployment insurance benefits to employees at the time of separating from employment.
Gov. Kelly said all Kansans with internet access should file online at www.getkansasbenefits.gov/. If they must call in, she asked for patience for customer service representatives.
“This is an incredibly stressful time for everyone, including them,” she said. “Now more than ever, we must be kind, we must support one another, and as I have said before, and I’ll say it again, together, we’ll get through this.”
In answer to a question, the governor said they are answering questions about essential functions on the governor’s website, and are posting questions-and-answers that are updated frequently at https://governor.kansas.gov/keff/. The governor’s stay-home order superseded all the local city and county orders.
Gov. Kelly said they would be clarifying the church exemption in the stay-at-home order. The order stated that church services are permitted but must follow social distancing provisions including a six-foot distance between individuals. The order also prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people.
She also said she believes most people are following the social distancing guidelines when they are out walking and exercising.
‘Staggering’ unemployment numbers
In a question-and-answer session today on Facebook, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, D-3rd Dist., and Kansas Labor Secretary Delia Garcia discussed what the KDOL is doing to address unemployment.
Rep. Davids supported the expansion of unemployment benefits in the federal relief package.
She said KDOL has a spreadsheet that employers can use to file online at the website. It allows the employers to submit one spreadsheet for all employees, she said.
Also, there is a shared work program allowing employers to avoid layoffs while reducing hours, and providing partial benefits, she said. This form also is online at www.getkansasbenefits.gov/.
Rep. Davids said a lot of furloughed or laid off workers have called her office, wondering if they are eligible.
“Right now, anybody being impacted by COVID-19 is eligible,” Garcia said.
The KDOL will follow up and let the applicant know if he or she qualifies for unemployment, she said. The requirements are very flexible now.
Garcia added that the KDOL phone number is being reserved for those who do not have the internet, for non-English speakers, military service members or those who moved to Kansas in the last 18 months.
She said she understands that this may be the first time some people have been laid off, and they do not have experience in navigating the system.
On Monday alone, there were 877,103 calls, she said.
“One individual called 714 times,” Garcia added. She said she was begging people to be patient with the staff, as they are doing everything they can with the resources they have.
The KDOL has been doing Facebook Live almost every day and a virtual town hall media session every week, she said. There is a frequently-asked-questions section on the website that may answer some questions, also.
Garcia noted that the KDOL is federally funded, and the number of employees there was tied to the unemployment rate here. Kansas had its lowest unemployment rate in 40 years, so there were not many customer service representatives on staff a few weeks ago, she noted. Overnight unemployment went from low to high, and there wasn’t time to train staff members for the normal six-month training period, she said.
Garcia said she doubled the staff last week. Many state employees were working from home for social distancing. Some retirees and former employees were called back to help in the call center, she said.
Garcia said that the new federal stimulus legislation allows help for small business owners and the self-employed. Garcia said they will not have guidance from the federal Department of Labor until later this week for small business owners. She said they expect to update this information on Monday.
Garcia said for the week ending March 21, the KDOL had 23,925 unemployed initial claims. For the week ending March 28, that increased to 55,428, she said.
Those numbers were “unbelievable,” she said.
“It doesn’t compare to the great recession,” she said.
“We will get through this,” she said. “This is the most important time to take care of each other and we will do that.”
“The numbers you just mentioned are staggering,” Rep. Davids said. “There’s so many people who are hurting right now. A lot of people, too, who have spent so much time taking care of us.”
Doctors emphasize good hygiene, staying home to stop spread of COVID-19
Doctors at the University of Kansas Health System on Tuesday continued to emphasize the importance of good hygiene. They spoke at a news teleconference.
Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, recommended that people stay home, keep a distance of six feet away from each other, wash their hands and not touch their faces.
Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Kansas Health System, said if people will wash their hands, especially if they are in public, and not touch their faces, their risk will go down.
Dr. Stites said there is more evidence that perhaps social distancing is working. He cited a report that a company that makes thermometers, with online reports, are seeing less temperature spikes in the United States, especially in areas with social distancing.
Dr. Rick Couldry, vice president of ancillary services at the University of Kansas Health System, said the hospital established COVID-19 testing at the hospital lab about a week and a half ago. It allowed the hospital to have a more rapid turnaround time.
The hospital has been doing 158 in-house tests a day, and this week, it will add another 250 tests a day by adding additional equipment to the lab, he said. Some tests may only take 2 to3 hours, he said.
Local business leaders in the Kansas City area worked hard and brought additional testing equipment to the hospital, he said.
“U.S. Engineering built stainless steel tables to put this customized equipment on in four days,” Couldry said. “NorthPoint helped logistically to get the engineers here to set it up, with a private charter plane.”
He said he hopes in a week or week and a half to have a significant increase in capacity. The manufacturer says it can do as many as 2,000 tests a day, he said, but at the present, they are not certain of the number of tests they can do here.
Couldry noted that the health system had only 1,000 of the long medical swabs on hand that are used in the test.
“Without the swabs, we are very limited in testing,” he said.
Dr. Stites said the lack of community-wide testing means they don’t have a good idea of how much COVID-19 is in the community.
There were about 25 positive COVID-19 patients at KU Hospital, with about 10 on ventilators, and also about 25 patients who are currently being tested for COVID-19, according to hospital officials. They are on a separate unit for COVID-19 patients only.
“The key for us will be what happens in the next week,” Dr. Stites said.
Social distancing started last Tuesday in Wyandotte County and the Kansas City area, and in the next week, they will know how well it’s working in Kansas City, he said.
Some models show that the Kansas City area will be fine with the number of intensive care unit beds they have, while others show they will exceed their capacity, he said. He said they are working to prepare for both of those situations.
While he said they didn’t know yet how well it’s working, there is some cell phone data that measures how close cell phone signals are to each other, he said.
There has been about 40 to 50 decrease in proximity in Johnson County, while Wyandotte County and Jackson County have had a 35 to 40 percent decrease in proximity, he said.
The goal is 50 percent, or even 70 percent decrease in proximity, he said. That will bring down the spread of the disease.