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Headlines for Friday, December 17, 2021

 

Windy Weather Brings Fires and Power Outages to Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS/KCUR/KPR) -  Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has declared a state of emergency because of the elevated danger of wildfires in parts of central and western Kansas. Fires that erupted across the state during Wednesday's wind storm, continued to burn Friday morning. Firefighters responded to blazes in 11 counties, mostly in western Kansas, The Kansas Forest Service says fires have burned just about 400,000 acres across Ellis, Russell, Osborne and Rooks counties. Smaller fires were also burning in those counties and other areas. Two people have reportedly died -- one in Osborne County, and another in Ellis County. The fires also killed an unknown number of cattle and horses. Numerous homes, outbuildings and other structures have been destroyed. Officials at the state's largest electric utility, Evergy, say the storm caused about 250,000 power outages in Kansas and Missouri. Power has now been restored to most Evergy customers but, the company says it could take days for power to be restored for all customers because of the large number of downed power poles and trees.  The Kansas Highway Patrol reports three fatalities in two separate accidents in southwest Kansas that KHP says were “definitely” caused by low visibility from blowing dust.  (Read more)

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2 Dead in Kansas Wildfires Fueled by Windy, Dry Weather

UNDATED (AP) — Authorities say two men have died in wildfires that erupted across Kansas earlier this week. Leoti officials say 84-year-old rancher and farmer Richard Shimanek died at a hospital after being burned while trying to fight a fire near his home on Wednesday. And the Ellis County sheriff's office says the remains of 36-year-old Derrick Scott Kelley were found near his burned truck. His fiancee reported him missing on Wednesday. They are the first confirmed fatalities from fires that erupted Wednesday in western and central Kansas, fueled by dry conditions and powerful winds. Hundreds of thousands of acres have burned.

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At Least 5 Dead as Midwest Rocked by Hurricane-Force Winds

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Authorities say at least five people died when a powerful storm system swept across the Great Plains and Midwest, spawning hurricane-force winds and likely tornadoes in Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota. Officials say a 65-year-old man was killed Wednesday night when a 40-foot tree fell on him outside his home in southeastern Minnesota. The Iowa State Patrol says a semitrailer was struck by high winds and rolled onto its side in eastern Iowa, killing the driver. The Kansas Highway Patrol says three people died in traffic accidents due to blowing dust. More than 20 unconfirmed tornadoes were reported Wednesday, mostly in eastern Nebraska and Iowa. Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses remain without power Thursday.

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Hospitals in Kansas, Missouri Report Spike in COVID Cases

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — An increase in COVID-19 cases has hospitals in Kansas and Missouri delaying surgeries, turning away transfers, holding patients in emergency rooms while they wait for beds to open up and desperately trying to hire traveling nurses. Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kansas, said in a news conference with hospitals throughout the region that he is particularly alarmed that the surge is coming even before the omicron variant hits the region in full force. In Merriam, Kansas, the number of COVID-19 patients with active infections at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission tripled from 12 in mid-November to 37 as of Thursday.

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Boeing Drops COVID-19 Requirement for U.S. Employees

SEATTLE (AP) — Aerospace giant Boeing says it’s suspending a company vaccination requirement for all U.S.-based employees. The Seattle Times reports the company adopted a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in October to ensure compliance with the federal executive order that required all employees of federal contractors to be vaccinated. The mandate faced opposition from a vocal minority of Boeing workers. In an internal company announcement Friday, Boeing told employees its decision to suspend the mandate “comes after a detailed review of a U.S. District Court ruling earlier this month that halts the enforcement of a federal executive order requiring vaccinations for federal contractors.” The company reports 92% of its U.S. workforce said they were fully vaccinated or had received an exemption.

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UPDATE: State's 2nd COVID-19 Omicron Variant Case Confirmed 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR/LDC Health) — Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health announced Friday that it was notified of the first confirmed case of the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Douglas County by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. It is the second confirmed case in Kansas. Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher, deputy county health officer and infectious disease physician at LMH Health, said detection of the variant in the county does not come as a surprise, given that it has rapidly spread across the country since the first confirmed U.S. case of Omicron was identified on December 1. “This virus is highly infectious and transmittable,” she said, adding that “(v)accines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19, slow transmission and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging.” The individual with the Omicron variant in Douglas County is a vaccinated adult who has received a booster dose. No additional details will be released to protect the privacy of the individual.

(–Additional Reporting–) 

Kansas Confirms Its 1st Case of COVID-19 Variant Omicron

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has confirmed its first case of the omicron variant, raising fresh concerns for hospitals that are already dealing with a rise in COVID-19 patients. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said in a news release Thursday that the infected person is a vaccinated adult in Franklin County in the northeast of the state. The person has not received a booster. The health department says no additional details will be released about the person to protect their privacy. Janet Stanek, the acting head of the department, says the detection of the variant comes as no surprise. (Read more)

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University of Kansas to Allow Admissions Without ACT Tests

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) _ The Kansas Board of Regents has approved new admissions standards that create a path for students to attend the University of Kansas without taking the ACT or SAT standardized tests. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the board on Wednesday unanimously voted to allow admission of students with a 3.25 or higher high school GPA. Chancellor Douglas Girod said that high school grade point averages do a better job than ACT scores of predicting college success. The university now will admit students who have a 3.25 or higher GPA or those with a 2.0 GPA and score at least 21 on the ACT. 

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Warm Kansas Fall Weather Breaks Records

MANHATTAN, Kan. (KNS) - November and December this year in Kansas have been some of the warmest on record.  Since Thanksgiving, more than 100 high temperature records have been set in Kansas and with warm weather in the forecast this week, more records could be shattered. Chip Redmond is a meteorologist at Kansas State University. He says the statewide average temperature since the start of December is nine degrees above the historical normal. “Nine degrees is hard to overcome," Redmond said. "We’d need some pretty substantial cold to just come out normal for December.”  Redmond says above normal temperatures in late fall and winter mean pests like mosquitoes are active longer. The higher temperatures also increase drought and worsen grassland fire risk. Climate change has so far pushed average winter temperatures in Kansas up about 4 degrees since 1970.

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Police: 3 Killed When SUV, Firetruck Collide in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo (AP) — Three people were killed when a firetruck collided with a sport utility vehicle, then plowed over a sidewalk and into a building in a Kansas City entertainment district. Police said the collision happened Wednesday night as the truck was headed to an emergency call with its lights flashing and sirens blaring. The impact forced the firetruck and the SUV over a sidewalk, where a woman was hit. The vehicles came to a stop in a building that had been home to the Riot Room, a bar and music venue that recently closed. Two victims were found soon after the crash in the sport utility vehicle. Police say the pedestrian’s body was found in the rubble Thursday.

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Osawatomie State Hospital to Accept Voluntary Admissions

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state plans to lift a moratorium on voluntary admissions at Osawatomie State Hospital beginning on Jan. 3. The hospital for adults with mental health issues stopped taking voluntary admissions in 2015 after receiving citations for not doing enough to help suicidal patients and routinely housing three patients in rooms meant for two because of space limitations. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services announced the change on Thursday. As part of the plan, it created a new class of mental health providers called State Institutional Alternative, which will allow private psychiatric facilities to accept patients who have been approved for admission to state psychiatric hospitals.

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Delayed Kansas Highway Construction Back on Track, New Projects Planned

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) _All of the Kansas highway projects delayed in 2016 because of a state budget crunch are now on their way to construction and the list of new projects is growing. The expansion of a stretch of U.S. 50 near Dodge City and the widening of a section of K-68 south of Kansas City had been on the drawing board since 2010.  Both are now proceeding. Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz says getting them done clears the way for new work.  “This is significant for communities who were promised these projects decades ago; and because we have now met the legislative requirement that allows us to construct new IKE projects,” Lorenz said. IKE is the state’s Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program. Lorenz says 25 new projects totalling $750 million are being added to it.  They include expanding a section of I-35 in Johnson County, the addition of passing lanes to US 169 near Iola and rebuilding interchanges in Wichita and Hays. 

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Medicaid Now Certifies Kids for Free Lunch in Kansas, 7 Other States

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has added eight states to the 19 where students receiving Medicaid coverage will be automatically added to the program offering free or reduced-price school lunches. A news release Tuesday says those states are Kansas, Alabama, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The department says this expands demonstration projects that have certified more than 1 million students for free meals and nearly 260,000 for reduced-price meals since the 2012-2013 school year. It says the 27 states now involved represent about 75% of students nationwide.

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Kansas Utilizes Federal Funds to Expand Broadband Access

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - More than 70,000 Kansans still don’t have internet access, but that could change with funding from a federal infrastructure bill signed into law last month. A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts looks at how states are using federal grants to boost broadband access. The report finds that Kansas has moved quickly to help bridge the digital divide. The new infrastructure bill includes $100 million for Kansas to expand broadband infrastructure and internet access. 

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Bankers Say Rural Economy Remains Strong in 10 States

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A new monthly survey of bankers in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states shows the economy remains strong in the region, but some bankers said they are worried about how inflation will affect farmers. The overall economic index slipped from November's 67.7 to 66.7 in December but any score above 50 suggests growth.  The report released Thursday said high inflation is a concern as land costs and the price of supplies farmers need are expected to keep growing next year. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.

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Report: Kansas Has Shortest Prison Probation Length

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - A new report says Kansas has the shortest average length of probation of any state in the country, but it sends more people back to prison for supervision violations than most other states. Kansas and Massachusetts are the only two states where the average probation length is nine months. The report from Pew Charitable Trusts says Kansas is doing well with short probation lengths, because shorter supervision can reduce recidivism and the burden on caseworkers. The study says Kansas policies appear to be working, but more research is needed.  Kansas does have the 12th highest rate of incarcerating people for supervision violations. One potential cause is the state’s offender registry list. Critics of the list say it is too burdensome and has no impact on public safety.  

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New Mental Hospital for Youth Planned for Hays

HAYS, Kan. (KNS) - A new psychiatric hospital for younger patients Is coming to western Kansas as the need for mental health services continues to increase. The new facility will offer individual and family therapy sessions, and medication management for people under 18.  Governor Laura Kelly announced KVC Hospitals is contracted to run the 14-bed treatment center until 2027. The opening of the new facility is expected to ease the backlog for services at the Larned State Hospital in central Kansas. The Kansas City Star reports that wait lists at Larned continue to grow and the hospital can't meet the demand. Those struggles have only worsened as the pandemic has strained people's mental health. The hospital will start admitting patients in 2023. 

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3 Juveniles in Custody in Shooting Death of Sedalia Man

SEDALIA, Mo. (AP) - Three juveniles are in custody in connection with the shooting death of a 32-year-old Sedalia man. Sedalia police said Wednesday the male juveniles, ages 15 and 16, are suspects in the December 10 death of Tylar Simon. Police say the suspects went to Simon's home to burglarize it and he was shot during a scuffle. Another person at the house was assaulted. Police say at least one of the juveniles was familiar with the home and the residents. Two of the suspects were taken into custody during the weekend and the third was found Wednesday in Kansas City. 

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QB Adrian Martinez Transferring from Nebraska to Kansas State

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Adrian Martinez is heading from Nebraska to Kansas State University. The four-year starting quarterback for the Cornhuskers announced on Twitter he would transfer to K-State. He is immediately eligible to play for the Wildcats. Martinez was a three-time captain at Nebraska but went just 14-25 as the starter. He completed 62% of his passes for more than 2,800 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this past season. Martinez could play two more college seasons because the NCAA granted players an extra year of eligibility during last year’s shortened COVID-19 season.

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Kansas City Chiefs Beat LA Chargers in Overtime
 
LOS ANGELES, Ca.. (KNS) - The Kansas City Chiefs won a thrilling game that went into overtime against the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday night. The final score: 34-to-28.   Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw the winning touchdown pass on their first possession in overtime after winning the coin toss.  Mahomes, who had a season-high 410 passing yards, told FOX TV after the game that there’s more work to be done."Now we’ve got to try to keep this momentum going because this isn’t it,"  Mahomes said. "We’ve still got a season left and we’re trying to get to the playoffs and make something happen." The Chiefs have won seven in a row and now have a 10-4 record,  a two-game lead over the 2nd place Chargers in the AFC West. The Chiefs will next host the Pittsburgh Steelers on the Sunday after Christmas at Arrowhead Stadium. 

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Toys for Tots in Need of 20,000 More Toys this Holiday Season

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (KPR) - Toy drive organizers in Overland Park are in need of 20,000 more toys this holiday season.  The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation and Overland Park Convention Center are requesting community assistance to address the local toy shortage.  Organizers say they are trying to provide toys to more than 56,000 area children who are in need this holiday season.  To donate, guests are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy for donation and drop it off at the Overland Park Convention Center through December 16.  “Based off our numbers, it looks like we’ll be falling short by about 20,000 toys this year — that’s 20,000 kids who won’t get a Christmas if we’re not able to produce,” said SSgt. Warren Ory, Marine and local Toys for Tots campaign coordinator. “We are looking to the community for help. If you could find it in your hearts to donate, we are really in need for ages 0-2 and 11 plus.”  Last year, the local Toys for Tots served more than 34,000 children in the greater Kansas City area.  The Overland Park Convention Center will once again serve as the largest donation site for the area Toys for Tots drive.
 
Toys for Tots assists children up to age 16. Items to consider for pre-teens and teens include, but are not limited to, sporting equipment, bags, balls, books, backpacks, cosmetics, purses, watch/wallet gift sets, bath gift sets, board games, radio control cars and trucks, hand-held electronics, skateboards/helmets, curling irons, hair straighteners, and hair dryers.

The Overland Park Convention Center will be open for public donations Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. Due to COVID-19, guests are asked to drop items off at the security entrance located on the east side of the convention center off Woodson Rd. (Directional signage is provided.)

Learn more at opconventioncenter.com/toys-for-tots or by calling 913.339.3000.  

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