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Headlines for Friday, April 17, 2020

UPDATE: Federal Court Asked to Block Kansas Limit on Church Services

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge is considering whether to block enforcement of Gov. Laura Kelly’s order banning religious gatherings with more than 10 people to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus. U.S. District Judge John Broomes said he would rule by Saturday or sooner on whether to grant a temporary restraining order after hearing arguments in a telephone conference call with the attorneys. The churches and their pastors filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Kelly, arguing that the directive violates their religious and free-speech rights, as well as their right to assembly. 

(–earlier reporting–)

Federal Court Asked to Block Kansas Limit on Church Services

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Lawyers for two Kansas churches and Gov. Laura Kelly are set to appear Friday afternoon in a federal court video conference where the churches will ask a  judge to block enforcement of Kelly’s order banning religious gatherings with more than 10 people. The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for Kansas on Thursday argued that Kelly's directive violates the churches' and pastors' religious, assembly and free-speech rights. Kelly's order is aimed at slowing the spread of the new coronavirus. The lawsuit was filed by First Baptist Church in Dodge City and Calvary Baptist Church in Junction City and their pastors.

Kansas Governor Sued over Order Limiting Religious Services

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two Kansas churches and their pastors have filed a federal lawsuit against Governor Laura Kelly over an order banning religious gatherings with more than 10 people to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus. The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for Kansas on Thursday argued that Kelly's directive violates the churches' and pastors'  religious, assembly and free-speech rights. The lawsuit comes comes after the Democratic governor thwarted an attempt by Republican legislative leaders to revoke her order. The lawsuit was filed by First Baptist Church in Dodge City and Calvary Baptist Church in Junction City and their pastors.


Kansas Rehab Worker Showed up Sick; 19 Die at Facility

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas City, Kansas, nursing and rehabilitation home has seen seven more COVID-19-related deaths to bring its total to 19 amid an outbreak that it believed to have started when a worker showed up sick. The Wyandotte County-Kansas City health department reported an increase of four deaths Thursday on top of three on Wednesday at the Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation. The facility has a total of 116 residents and staff testing positive, making it the state’s largest cluster.  The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is working to bring on 400 volunteers to help trace people who’ve had contact with people infected with coronavirus.


Kansas Reports More Than 1,700 Cases of COVID-19, Including 84 Deaths

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) -  As of 11 am Friday, state health officials reported 1,705 cases of COVID-19 from 66 counties, including 84 deaths.  There have been 375 of 1,377 cases that required hospitalization. Find more updates here.   

(–additional reporting–)

Kansas Sees Coronavirus Cases Top 1,700; Deaths Rise to 84

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has seen its number of confirmed coronavirus cases jump again by more than 100, past 1,700 in all. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment also reported Friday that COVID-19 deaths increased by four to 84. The department said the state has 1,705 cases of the novel coronavirus in 66 of its 105 counties. That was an increase of 117, or 7.4% from Thursday. Three additional counties reported cases. The new numbers come with Republican legislators increasing their pressure on Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to outline a plan for lifting her stay-at-home order for the state’s 2.9 million residents. 

Kansas Lags in COVID-19 Testing, Clouding State's Reopening

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas ranks near the bottom among U.S. states for how many people it’s testing for the novel coronavirus. It also plans to start using 3D printers to manufacture its own swabs as it struggles to get the point that it’s doing enough testing before lifting a stay-at-home order. The struggles have continued with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly under increasing pressure from the Republican-controlled Legislature to lift restrictions hindering economic activity.  But Kelly said Friday that testing people both with and without symptoms is key. Dr. Lee Norman, her top public health administrator, said the state might not be able to loosen restrictions until mid-May. 

No Plan in Sight: Test Troubles Cloud Trump Recovery Effort

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is struggling to test enough people for the novel coronavirus so officials can track and control the spread of the disease. That's a crucial first step to reopening parts of the economy, as President Donald Trump is pushing to do by May 1. Trump's plan hinges on a downward trajectory of positive tests. It's been more than a month since he said "anybody who wants a test, can get a test.” Today, the reality on the ground is much different. People report being unable to get tested, and health workers say supply shortages make more testing impossible. 


LMH Health Expects Surge of COVID-19 Cases to Come Closer to End of April

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) — Leaders at the hospital in Lawrence, LMH Health, now expect Douglas County’s surge of COVID-19 cases to arrive closer to April 29, about 10 days later than previously projected.  And, as the Lawrence Journal-World reports, hospital CEO Russ Johnson expects the effects of the pandemic to last much longer at the hospital and in the community.  “We have to be mentally preparing for not only the moment we are in, but for the next two or three or four or six months,” said Russ Johnson, president and CEO of LMH Health.  Johnson didn’t go into specifics at Wednesday's Board of Trustees meeting, but said the pandemic is likely to be disruptive for awhile.  “I don’t want to be a downer, but I think that is the reality in front of us,” he said.  So far, coronavirus-related cases at the hospital have been sparse. On Wednesday, only one patient was being treated for COVID-19.  Officials say they have a plan that would allow for LMH to hospitalize up to 264 people at once.  (Discover more stories like this by subscribing to the Lawrence Journal-World.)  


Kansas Changes Prison Health Providers Amid Ongoing Concerns

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas will soon have a new medical provider in state prisons. Officials announced Friday that they had signed a new contract for medical services amid mounting frustrations with its current provider. The Kansas Department of Corrections said in a news release that it awarded Centurion of Kansas LLC a contract that begins July 1. The announcement comes a week after Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly criticized the health care provided by Tennessee-based Corizon Health.  Kelly said she shared concerns expressed by inmates and staff about the level of care from Corizon.


Missouri's Governor Extends Stay-at-Home Order to May 3

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Governor Mike Parson has extended the statewide stay-at-home order through May 3. But after that, Parson pledges that “people are going to go back to work” so the state’s economy can begin to recover from the coronavirus shutdown. The Republican governor made the announcement Thursday. But most businesses won’t be reopening anytime soon in Missouri’s two urban areas. Democratic leaders of Kansas City, Jackson County, St. Louis and St. Louis County all announced that they were extending stay-at-home orders through at least mid-May. Missouri’s stay-at-home order began April 6 and was set to expire April 24.


Officials: Woman Dies in Rural Kansas House Fire

HIAWATHA, Kan. (KSNW-TV) — Officials say a woman has died in a rural northeastern Kansas house fire. Wichita TV  station KSNW says the fire was reported around 3 am Thursday in Brown County. A family member told the station that the 74-year-old woman and her husband initially escaped the fire, but that the woman went back inside to try to save a dog and did not survive. The Brown County Sheriff's Office says it's investigating the cause of the fire, but noted that no foul play was suspected. Officials said the man who escaped the fire was hospitalized. Authorities have not released the victims' names.


Smithfield Foods Closes Plants in Wisconsin and Martin City, Missouri

CUDAHY, Wis. (AP) — Smithfield Foods will temporarily close its meat processing plants in Cudahy, Wisconsin, and in Martin City, Missouri because of the coronavirus pandemic. The plant near Milwaukee will be closed for two weeks while the facility in Martin City, Missouri, is closed indefinitely. The Missouri plant receives raw material from the company’s shuttered Sioux Falls, South Dakota, facility. Virginia-based Smithfield Foods has reported 518 infections in employees in Sioux Falls and 126 more in people connected to them. Smithfield said a small number of employees at the Wisconsin and Missouri plants have tested positive for the virus.  Martin City is a neighborhood of Kansas City, located along the Missouri and Kansas border in Jackson County, Missouri.


Jump in Claims Spurs Kansas to Ask People to Limit Unemployment Filings

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is asking jobless workers to limit when they file claims for unemployment benefits and has temporarily suspended a website function allowing people to check the status of their claims. The moves announced Thursday are a response to a surge in claims overwhelming the computer system for processing them The Department of Labor is asking people whose last names begin with A through M to file claims Sunday afternoons, Tuesdays and Thursdays and people whose last names begin with N through Z to file Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The state received nearly 31,000 initial claims last week and handled more than 75,000 ongoing claims.


Spirit AeroSystems Bringing Back Some Furloughed Workers

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A major aircraft parts supplier in Kansas is expected to bring about 2,100 furloughed workers back to work next week as Boeing prepares to resume production of its commercial airplanes. The Wichita Eagle reports that Spirit AeroSystems also is planning resume work for more than 1,700 other workers in Wichita over the next three weeks. Boeing said Thursday it will restart production of its commercial airplanes next week in the Seattle area after operations were suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Police: Tow Truck Drivers Have Gun Battle in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police say two tow truck drivers carried out a rolling gun battle in a western Kansas City neighborhood, seriously wounding one of them. The Kansas City Star reports that the shooting happened Tuesday night near the Glen Lake neighborhood. Police say altercation began in Raytown, when one tow truck driver tried to run over the other, and continued into Kansas City. Police say at some point, one driver opened fire on the other. Police say one of the drivers was shot twice and was taken to a hospital in serious condition. Police say he is expected to survive. No names were released, and no arrests have been reported.


Kansas Ranchers Burn Land Despite Plea from Health Officials

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas ranchers eager to prepare their land for cattle grazing have mostly brushed off the plea from state health officials to voluntarily cut back this spring’s prairie burning so as to reduce air pollution during the coronavirus pandemic. Air quality monitors this past week have picked up “significantly high readings” downwind from Kansas in the Lincoln and Omaha areas of Nebraska, with smoke from Kansas reaching as far north as South Dakota. Rick Brunetti, director of the Bureau of Air at at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, says they are seeing very little, if any, reduction in the amount of burning in Kansas.


Former Sedgwick County Jail Inmate Reaches $50,000 Settlement in Abuse Lawsuit

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Sedgwick County has settled a lawsuit with a former jail inmate who alleged he was has beaten unconscious by a deputy for $50,000. The Wichita Eagle reports that commissioners approved the settlement Wednesday with 32-year-old Kristopher Welch, who sued last year in federal court. Welch’s lawsuit originally sought $75,000 in damages. Among those named in the suit was Cody Alexander, the jail sergeant whom Welch said beat him. The sheriff’s office says Alexander is now a lieutenant.


No Charges Filed Against Ness County Sheriff's Deputy in Officer-Involved Shooting

LA CROSSE, Kan. (KPR) —  The Rush County Attorney says no charges will be filed against the Ness County sheriff’s deputy who shot and injured a suspect in January on Highway 96 in Rush County.  After reviewing investigative reports from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Rush County Attorney Tony Rues determined the use of deadly force was justified, and he will not file charges against the sheriff’s deputy.  According to Rues, the sheriff's deputy was in pursuit of Timothy “Timmy” W. Kellebrew who was suspected of committing an aggravated robbery with a firearm at a Dollar General store. Kellebrew's actions required law enforcement to engage in a dangerous high-speed pursuit.  This not only endangered law enforcement but also other civilians using the highway. Rues says Kellebrew also used a firearm while trying to gain access to a vehicle that he had forced off the highway.  "It is at that instance that the deputy fired his service weapon," Rues said, and "the use of deadly force was justified. Kellebrew was charged in Lane County for his alleged involvement in the robbery at the Dollar General Store in Dighton. Charges are pending for suspected crimes that occurred in Rush County.


Pandemic Sends Rural Bankers Survey Index to All-Time Low

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A new survey of bankers in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states shows the vast majority expect the coronavirus outbreak to push their local areas into recession. The overall index for the region plummeted to 12.1 in April from March’s already anemic 35.5. It was the lowest index recorded since the survey began in January 2006. Any score below 50 suggests a shrinking economy. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss said more than nine in 10 bankers surveyed expect the measures being taken to fight the coronavirus to lead to a recession. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.


Douglas County Prosecutor Who Filed False Rape Case Faces New Challengers

UNDATED (AP / LJW) — A University of Kansas law professor, whose student was charged last year with making a false rape report, has filed to run for the office of the prosecutor who eventually dropped the charge amid intense pressure. Suzanne Valdez said she believes Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson has been “asleep at the wheel." Valdez, the former president of University Senate at KU and a special prosecutor in Wyandotte County, said she hopes to address “systemic and cultural” issues, placing a focus on victim needs.  Branson, a Democrat, has been DA since January 2005.  As of Thursday, he had not filed to run for reelection.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports that another attorney is also in the running to become the county's next top prosecutor. Cooper Overstreet, a defense attorney for the Swain Law Office, has also filed to run.  Like Branson, both Overstreet and Valdez are Democrats.  


Missouri River - One of the Two Largest American Rivers Topping New List of Endangered Waterways

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — The nation's two largest rivers top a new listing of the most endangered waterways. This week, the Washington, D.C.-based conservation organization American Rivers released its list of the 10 most endangered waterways in the United States. The Upper Mississippi River was cited as the most endangered, followed by the lower Missouri River. For both rivers, American Rivers cited increasingly severe flooding driven by climate change. Extreme flooding has become increasingly common on the Upper Mississippi. Meanwhile, parts of the Missouri River saw record and near-record flooding last spring in Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska.


Silver Dollar City Lays Off 257 Employees Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

BRANSON, Mo. (AP) — Silver Dollar City has announced it is preparing to lay off 257 workers amid the coronavirus outbreak. The Springfield News-Leader reports that the Branson-area amusement park informed the Missouri Office of Workforce Development of the layoffs in a letter dated Tuesday. Showboat Branson Belle workers also will be affected. Park officials who had been preparing to celebrate the attraction’s 60th anniversary described the move in a prepared statement as going into “hibernation mode.”


KPR's daily headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays and updated throughout the day.  KPR's weekend summary is usually published by 1 pm Saturdays and Sundays.    


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