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Headlines for Friday, December 25, 2020

COVID-19 Caseload Continues Climb in Kansas; Deaths Top 2,500

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS/KPR) - The number of COVID-19 cases reported in Kansas is approaching 210,000. Official data released Wednesday shows Kansas has identified 209,689 cases of coronavirus and 2,507 virus-related deaths since the pandemic began.  That's an increase of 5,089 cases and 59 deaths since Monday.  The Kansas Department of Health and Environment regularly updates the coronavirus figures on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but will not do so this Friday because of the Christmas holiday. The next update of Kansas COVID-19 cases is expected Monday, December 28th. 

(— Related —) 

Governor: Kansas Should Drop Local Control of COVID-19 Rules

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly says Kansas should stop giving local officials the final say over the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic because experience has shown “a patchwork approach” does not work. Kelly made the comments Wednesday during an Associated Press interview a day after she and her top public health administrator argued that Kansas is now controlling the spread of COVID-19, despite high case numbers. The Republican-controlled Legislature already has committed to considering changes in emergency management laws after opening its annual 90-day session Jan. 11. Top Republican lawmakers earlier this year forced Kelly to accept local control over mask rules and restrictions on businesses.

Kansas Hospital Workers: Hope, Purpose Shadowed by COVID-19

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Some employees at Kansas hospitals spent a good part of the Christmas holiday caring for patients and providing comfort to families and colleagues. The coronavirus pandemic upended holiday plans and family traditions for these caregivers, just as it did for other people, as COVID-19 has put stress on Kansas hospitals. Steve Morgan had an eight-hour shift as the chaplain on duty in a Wichita hospital and reflected on what he sees as colleagues' sense of purpose on the Christian celebration of Jesus's birth. Nurse Yvonne Murphy was feeling hopeful during her 12-hour Christmas hospital shift in Topeka after getting a coronavirus vaccine. The holiday came near the end of her first year as a nurse.


Kansas Working Through Details of Who Gets Vaccinated When

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is working through the details of exactly who will be eligible for coronavirus vaccines in exactly what order as it concentrates on giving shots mostly to health care workers this month. Gov. Laura Kelly told leaders of the Legislature this week that the vaccines have gone mostly to health care workers. That group also includes employees in state prisons. She said vaccines could go “almost exclusively” to health care workers into mid-January but also suggested some doses already have made it to nursing homes. Kelly told The Topeka Capital-Journal in an interview that prison inmates are to get vaccinated before the general public because they’re in “congregate” housing, but the state doesn't expect vaccines to be available for some adults for at least several months. The state's vaccine plan made health care workers and nursing home workers and residents the first in line, followed by other "essential" workers and people 75 or older, particularly those at high risk of coronavirus complications. 


Vaccine Distribution Continues in Kansas as New Vaccine Expected

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) —Kansas health officials are expecting to receive nearly 50 thousand doses of a second brand of coronavirus vaccine this week  The state has already received more than 20 thousand doses of Pfizer’s vaccine. All but a handful of counties have started giving shots to health care workers at risk of catching the coronavirus from patients. Governor Laura Kelly says the state is expecting a shipment of another version of the coronavirus vaccine, this one from Moderna. That brand of the vaccine can be stored in regular freezers, making distribution easier. Pfizer’s vaccine requires storage at extremely cold temperatures. Kansas residents 75 years old or older will be next in line for the vaccine but officials at the University of Kansas Health System say the state will need far more doses of vaccines to start giving shots to all of the state's older residents.  


COVID-19 Claims the Life of Another Kansas Prison Worker

EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) _ Another Kansas prison worker has died from complications of the coronavirus. The El Dorado Correctional Facility announced the death Wednesday of 42-year-old Gabe Morales. Prison administrators described Morales as a ``wonderful asset'' to the staff and prisoners. Morales began his career with the Kansas Department of Corrections at the Winfield Correctional Facility in 2014 and moved to the El Dorado prison in 2015. Part of Morales's job was to prepare inmates for life after their sentences ended. He told KAKE-TV for a story last year that, ``It's not about the person they are when they came in, you really want to affect them, so they're a better person when they go out.'' 


New Survey Shows Many Kansas Families Are Struggling with Mental Health Issues

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation indicates that almost 20 percent of Kansas adults with children reported feeling depressed or hopeless during the COVID-19 pandemic. About 15 percent of adults who live with children said they didn’t have health insurance. A similar percentage didn’t always have enough food or had little or no confidence they could pay their rent or mortgage on time. Clay Wirestone, of the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children, says food banks in the state have seen an unprecedented rise in demand. “There’s no question that the strain and the stress on families has been increasing throughout the year,” Wirestone said. Across the country, Black, Latino and multiracial families were more likely to say they had these concerns. The survey was conducted in September and October.


Kansas Governor to Propose Treatment Center for Inmates

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Laura Kelly plans to propose creating a treatment center at Kansas's largest prison for inmates with substance abuse problems. The Kansas City Star reports that Kelly said she plans to recommend adding a treatment center at the state prison in Lansing in the Kansas City area. Her proposal mirrors a recommendation from the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission to use space in an existing prison for a 240-bed substance abuse treatment center. The governor said Wednesday in an interview that inmates could be sentenced to the new center for intensive treatment, rather than being housed in other prison space. 


ACLU Report Shows Disparities in Kansas Justice System

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) —The data from the ACLU indicates that Black Kansans were disproportionately arrested for crimes in Kansas from 2015 to 2019.  Over that time period, non-Hispanic Black people were about 6 percent of the Kansas population, but they made up about 19 percent of arrests. That’s according to data from nearly every law enforcement agency in the state. Most counties in the state arrested people of color at a disproportionate rate. Some of the state’s largest police departments either declined or haven’t yet provided arrest data to the ACLU, including the police in Topeka, Olathe, and Lawrence. 


Congress Passes Ban on "Surprise" Medical Bills

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) —Congress passed a ban this week against surprise medical bills. The ban could prevent many of the surprise bills that Kansans get. Dozens of states have laws prohibiting such medical bills but Kansas does not and researchers say these situations are especially common in Kansas. Chris Costantini received a $900 bill for an ambulance trip in Kansas City, Kansas that turned out to be out of his insurance network. “Especially in an emergency circumstance, you can’t really shop around and make sure that the medical care that you’re using is in network or out of network," Costantini said. The law would apply to ER care and medical helicopters. 


Missouri State Senate Makes Changes Because of Coronavirus

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri's Senate is installing an audio monitoring system in its committee hearing rooms so employees, lobbyists and the public can listen to debate in their homes or offices as the number of coronavirus cases continues to surge in the state. Missouri State Senate Administrator Patrick Baker said the changes could mean fewer people in a building that is often crowded during the five-month annual session that begins on January 6. Statewide, 18,467 new confirmed cases have been reported in Missouri in the past week. That's about 2,638 new cases a day on average. 


Kansas Colleges Extend Waiver of Overdue Tuition

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KNS)  —Students who fall behind on tuition payments at public universities in Kansas normally can't enroll for another semester. But the pandemic caused universities to bend that rule. Now, public universities in Kansas are letting students enroll for more classes even when they fall behind on tuition payments. But Kansas waived that rule last spring at the start of the pandemic and, this month, the state suspended the rule again for the coming spring semester. Education officials say they waived the rule to help students hurting financially because of the pandemic. Universities say the rule is meant to keep students from building more debt and to make sure schools get paid. Kansas State will still stop students from enrolling if they owe the university more than two thousand dollars.


Lawrence Police Announce New Special Victims Unit

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Lawrence Police Department plans a new special victims unit that will focus largely on cases of physical abuse. The department said Tuesday that the main focus of the new division will be crimes such as those involving children, crimes of a sexual nature and domestic violence. The Douglas County District Attorney’s office will provide dedicated prosecutors to deal with the crimes investigated by the SVU.


2 Arrested After Trying to Break into Topeka Paper's Offices

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Police arrested two men for attempting to break into the Topeka Capital-Journal’s newspaper offices on the morning of Christmas Eve. Shawnee County Dispatch confirmed the arrests Thursday and said both men were transported to the hospital for medical attention, the newspaper reported. Its offices in a downtown building are located one floor above a bank. A Capital-Journal customer service representative said two men approached the newsroom’s back entrance at about 8 a.m. They demanded to be let into the office and were carrying what appeared to be folded newspapers and toolboxes. The Capital-Journal employee and two other workers called police, but the men continued trying to pry open the door.


Kansas City Police Identify Victim of Hit-and-Run 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Authorities in Kansas City, Missouri have identified the victim of a fatal hit-and-run crash who was left lying on the side of a street for more than 48 hours before he was found. Police said that 24-year-old Deyonta Tenner was the person killed December 18 when a speeding vehicle left the roadway and struck a pedestrian. But it wasn't until around 9 a.m. last Sunday that someone called authorities to report the body near the road. Police have released photos of the vehicle believed to be involved. 


Kansas City, Kansas Police Investigating Christmas Homicide

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police in Kansas City, Kansas are investigating a Christmas morning homicide. The Kansas City Star reports that police responded to a report of a shooting in the area of the Fairfax Bluffs Apartments north of Kansas Highway 5 and south of the Quindaro Power Station around 6:20 a.m. Friday. They found a Hispanic male in his 30s with apparent gunshot wounds. He was taken to an area hospital, and later died. Police released no further details.


Wife of Ex-Mayor Granted Diversion in Faked Ticket Case

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The wife of a former Kansas mayor who resigned abruptly before the couple was charged with making fake tickets to attend a zoo fundraiser has been granted diversion in the case. The Wichita Eagle reports that Elizabeth Blubaugh has to pay $945 in restitution to the Sedgwick County Zoo plus other fees, attend and complete a theft education program and perform 40 hours of community service as the part of the agreement. Her husband, Jamey Blubaugh, is scheduled for a bench trial next month. He resigned in August as the mayor of Goddard, a suburb of Wichita, citing conflicts with the city administrators. The misdemeanor counterfeiting charges were filed against the couple two days later.


Drug Dealer Gets More Than 8 Years in Deadly Wichita Crash

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 19-year-old drug dealer has been sentenced to eight years and eight months in prison for causing a deadly Wichita crash while chasing down someone who bolted with a bag of marijuana without paying. The Wichita Eagle reports that Alejandro Cruz had the victim’s father on his side. As the sentencing hearing was live-streamed on YouTube this week, Rajon Powell wrote in a chat box that he “would not like to see another life lost in all of this.” His son, 19-year-old Elias Powell, died from injuries he received in the June 27 car chase and wreck that also hurt two other men with him.


2 Killed, 1 Injured in East Wichita Wreck, Police Say

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say one two people have been killed and a third person was hurt in a Wichita crash. The Wichita Eagle reports that the crash happened around 1 a.m. Thursday when a car went off the side of a road and struck a tree. Police said the car’s driver, Eduardo Viurques, 26, and a passenger, Boris Guzman-Mendoza, 28, both of Wichita, were ejected from the car and were pronounced dead at the scene. A 32-year-old who was also a passenger was taken to a local hospital. The accident is still under investigation, but police said that “speed and alcohol are believed to be a factor.”


Pandemic Boosts Sales of Live Christmas Trees

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) — As public health officials urged people to stay at home for the holidays, more Americans opted for old-fashioned, real Christmas Trees instead of artificial trees this year. Evercore ISI Research says sales of real Christmas trees rose by almost a third this holiday season over last year.  Curtis Schmidt ran the Optimist Club’s tree lot in Hays says half the stock in trees sold in the opening weekend. “Which is kind of unheard of." Schmidt said. "Even the most expensive trees sold out the first night. We’ve never done that before.”  Delp Christmas Tree Farm in Stafford County, Kansas estimates its sales grew by 10 percent and Bel Tree Farm in Salina sold out 10 days earlier than in 2019. Bloomberg News estimates Americans have spent more than $2 billion dollars on live Christmas trees this year.


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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