By Jim McLean
Kansas News Service
A stay-at-home order for the entire state of Kansas will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday, March 30, Gov. Laura Kelly announced Saturday, making it one of at least 20 states to ask its residents to conduct only essential business.
The executive order, which will last at least until April 19, is meant to slow the spread of coronavirus. Kansas has surpassed 200 cases of COVID-19 — including two military personnel, one from Fort Riley and one from Fort Leavenworth — and four deaths.
Sedgwick County put a stay-at-home order in place on Wednesday, March 25. That announcement came last Tuesday (also read: Stay-at-home order to take effect in Sedgwick County). Sumner County then followed suit after its first positive coronavirus case. That order was issued on Thursday and went into effect on Friday (also read: Sumner County confirms COVID-19 case; stay-at-home order issued).
Kelly said the order became necessary once projections showed confirmed cases of coronavirus could jump to as many as 900 over the next week.
“I can’t tell you how much I wish it weren’t necessary, but this is our window to ensure Kansas does not suffer the terrible fate of other hard-hit states like New York and Missouri,” she said at a Statehouse news conference.
More than a dozen counties already had stay-at-home orders, covering a large swath of Kansas’ population. But Kelly said the “difficult but unavoidable” decision for a statewide order was needed to keep from having a network of them, and the state order supersedes county orders.
“I left these decisions to local health departments for as long as possible,” she said. “But the reality is that a patchwork approach is a recipe for confusion in our statewide fight to slow the spread of the coronavirus.”
Stay-at-home orders mean people by and large should not leave their homes except for essential business — work, grocery shopping, seeking medical care or taking care of family or friends who are in need. People are allowed to exercise outside, but cannot gather in groups larger than 10.
“You can leave your home,” Kelly said. “You can go outside. You’re not under house arrest.”
Kansas’ neighbors vary when it comes to statewide orders: Colorado’s took effect Thursday, while Missouri has left it up to its cities and counties, and Nebraska has nothing.
The center of the outbreak in Kansas is in Johnson and Wyandotte counties, while so far, the western half is largely unaffected. But Kansas officials have said the state’s peak in cases may not come until mid- to late April.
Kelly said President Donald Trump’s suggestion that life should be allowed to return to normal soon in sections of the country where cases remain relatively low runs counter to the advice she is receiving from public health experts.
“We are making this move now because of what we’re seeing here in Kansas and any guidelines from the federal government that don’t model this we quite honestly will ignore,” she said.
Kelly has been one of the more aggressive governors across the U.S. in responding to coronarvirus and was the first to close all K-12 schools through the end of the 2019-20 school year, moving instruction largely online.
Kansas House Republican leadership issued a statement Saturday after Kelly’s news conference, saying the Legislative Coordination Council will “carefully assess this executive order and the reasons for it.”
“There are no easy decisions in a time like this,” House Speaker Ron Ryckman, Majority Leader Dan Hawkins and Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch said in a statement, “and we must diligently work together to strike a balance that is in the best interests of all Kansans.”
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, however, said it worked with Kelly’s office to “develop this more uniform approach,” which says will help “flatten the curve” and provide “consistent supply chain operations for the delivery of groceries, medical supplies and other vital products.”
Testing has ramped up in Kansas, with the state lab handling 175 samples a day and expecting to get up to between 700 and 1,000 daily soon, according to Kansas health secretary Lee Norman. State testing is only for high-risk groups, like nursing home residents and health care workers; many commercial labs and hospitals in Kansas now have the capacity to test now, too.
Kansas will soon use up its share of the federally provided personal protection equipment for health care workers, like gloves, masks and gowns.
“The strategic national stockpile is not an endless stockpile, unfortunately,” Norman said Friday. “And again, it’s something that we don’t control but we try to make sure we get our share.”
Kansas has mandated that people who, as of Friday, returned from Colorado (which has more than 1,000 cases) or Louisiana (more than 2,700 cases) must self-quarantine for 14 days. Illinois, New Jersey, California, Florida, New York state and Washington were already on the list, as well as cruises and international locations.
The majority of people who get coronavirus have mild or moderate symptoms, like a fever, cough and shortness of breath; some report losing their sense of smell and taste. These people tend to recover in two weeks. More severe cases can have up to six weeks’ recovery time, require hospitalization and can lead to death.
Kansas News Service reporters Celia Llopis-Jepsen and Daniel Caudill contributed to this report. Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks or email jim (at) kcur (dot) org.