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Headlines for Friday, January 1, 2021


Kansas to Use Genetic Testing to Find New Coronavirus Strain

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas health officials plan to use genetic testing to identify a new, more contagious coronavirus strain. No cases of the new strain have been found yet in Kansas. The new strain was first detected in England and cases have been confirmed in Colorado, California and Florida. Dr. Lee Norman, head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said this week that the state already does genetic testing with about 1% of COVID-19 patients and it plans to increase its lab capacity so it can do more tests. He said viruses often have minor genetic variations, and they generally don't make much difference.


Kansas City Area Sees Worst Month Ever for COVID-19 Deaths

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — December was the deadliest month of the coronavirus pandemic in the Kansas City area. An average of 11 people died each day from COVID-19. The Kansas City Star says the metropolitan area recorded 342 COVID-19 deaths through Dec. 30. All told, 1,353 metro area residents have died from the virus since the onset of the pandemic. The metro area includes residents in Missouri and Kansas. In Missouri, the virus has claimed 5,519 lives, including 28 new deaths reported Thursday by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The state also cited 3,714 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 392,570 since the pandemic began.


CDC Ranks Kansas Last in COVID-19 Vaccine Shots; Reporting Lag Cited

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Federal government data says Kansas ranks last among states in its reported COVID-19 vaccination rate. State officials attribute the issue to a lag in reporting by providers of the shots. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 12,164 people had received the first of two vaccine doses in Kansas as of Wednesday, or 418 for every 100,000 of its 2.9 million residents. The CDC said Kansas had administered less than 11% of the vaccine doses it had received. A state health department spokeswoman says the vaccination numbers are not current because not all providers are fully trained on using a computer system for reporting inoculations.


Despite Vaccine, Visiting Nursing Homes May be Challenging

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) — Thousands of Kansas and Missouri long-term care residents will get vaccinated against coronavirus in the coming weeks and months. But family visits may still be difficult. Many families are aching to see loved ones in nursing homes and similar facilities after being apart for so long.  But experts say even after residents get the vaccine, nursing homes will need to be super careful. They should keep using face masks and screening people for the virus. Some may still not allow visitors for months.  The vaccine can’t fully guarantee that residents won’t catch COVID-19. As the broader public gets vaccinated, maybe several months later, the risk of outbreaks will decrease.  


Kansas COVID-19 Caseload Exceeds 227,000; Deaths Top 2,800

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health reports there have been 227,745 cases of COVID-19, including 2,879 deaths, since the pandemic began.  Health officials also reported today (FRI) that there have been 6,903 hospitalizations resulting from 106,524 cases.  KDHE typically provides updates on coronavirus case numbers Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.


Kansas Governor Gets Vaccine; Many GOP Leaders Hold Off on Getting Shots for Now

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has received the first of two COVID-19 vaccine shots.  But some top Republican officials have passed for now because all health care workers and nursing home residents haven't received theirs.  Kelly designated herself and 10 other state officials as eligible to start vaccinations this week in an effort to protect state government's "continuity of operations." Kelly received her shot Wednesday.  But four eligible legislative leaders and GOP Attorney General Derek Schmidt say they will wait. Most of those Republicans say they don't want to jump in line ahead of health care workers, nursing home residents and other vulnerable Kansans.  The eligible Republican legislative leaders who said they would wait include House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, incoming Senate President Ty Masterson and incoming Senate Vice President Rick Wilborn.  Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt said he would also wait, but GOP Insurance Commissioner Vicki Schmidt is a pharmacist and is getting inoculated.  Kelly's office said State Treasurer-designate Lynn Rogers and Lt. Governor-to-be David Toland will get shots. It's not clear when Republican Secretary of State Scott Schwab or Kansas Supreme Court Justice Marla Luckert will get their vaccines.


Kansas Surpasses 1 Million COVID-19 Tests

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas residents have had more than 1 million COVID-19 tests since the beginning of the pandemic. The state Department of Health and Environment reported this week that Kansas had reached the milestone. More than 15,000 tests have been reported this week alone. Governor Laura Kelly in late September announced a “unified” strategy for boosting testing to help the state catch more cases early and more frequently in people without COVID-19 symptoms. The state hired 11 contractors in mid-November, and Kelly said this week that the state had 42 free testing sites. The state health department says about one third of the state’s tests, or more than 330,000, occurred after October.


COVID-19 Could Prompt Big Changes for Kansas Health Agencies

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — More than 20 local public health administrators in Kansas have resigned or retired since the coronavirus pandemic began, but that's just one sign of strain on the state's public health infrastructure. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that funding for county health departments has remained stagnant for years and shrinking local tax bases mean rural health departments could struggle financially in the years to come. The state's decentralized model of local public health with 100 county agencies across the state might need a reboot to help respond to future crises as well as to perform routine work, like doling out vaccinations and providing pregnancy tests.

Three Youths Arrested for Topeka Mall Fire

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An 18-year-old and two juveniles have been arrested in connection to a fire at the abandoned White Lakes mall in Topeka. Officials believe this week's fire that heavily damaged the mall was intentionally set. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that a tip led to the arrests.  Tuesday's early morning fire at White Lakes Mall caused an estimated $100,000 in damage. The mall opened in the 1960s but it because less popular after a larger mall opened in west Topeka in the 1980s.


Woman, Child Killed, 2 Others Wounded at Southwest Missouri Home

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — A 29-year-old man is charged with two counts of first-degree murder after a woman and child were stabbed to death in Springfield. Brandon Corbin King is being held in the Green County Jail after being charged in the deaths of 32-year-old Stephanie Plumb and 13-year-old Dylan Moore. They were found dead Thursday after officers were called to a home about an assault. When officers arrived, two girls, ages 7 and 14, came out of the house and said others were inside. Police say the two girls also had been stabbed. King was arrested near the home. He is facing 12 other charges arising from


Appeals Court Vacates Order Delaying Woman's Execution

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal appeals court has cleared the way for the only woman on federal death row to be executed before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. Lisa Montgomery was sentenced to death for killing a woman in northwest Missouri in 2004. The ruling, handed down today (FRI) by a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, concludes that a lower court judge erred when he vacated the execution date in an order last week. The judge had ruled the Justice Department unlawfully rescheduled Montgomery’s execution and he vacated an order from the director of the Bureau of Prisons scheduling her death for Jan. 12. But the appeals panel disagreed.


Two People Die in Separate New Year's Eve Shootings in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita recorded two deaths in separate shootings just hours into the New Year. Police say 22-year-old Gabriel Campos-Torres died after being shot just after midnight in southeast Wichita. Police say 18-year-old Noah Martin of Wichita and a 16-year-old boy were arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder. The second fatal shooting occurred at a New Year's Eve party in northwest Wichita. Police spokesman Charley Davidson said 26-year-old Nicholas Sims was shot at a party attended by about 50 people. Davidson said Sims got into an argument with someone at the party. Investigators are trying to determine the circumstances of that shooting.


Kansas HPV Vaccination Rates Improve

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) — A larger percentage of Kansas teens are getting a vaccine that prevents many types of cancer. Kansas lags many states on HPV vaccination. But the United Health Foundation says the state is making progress. About half of Kansas teens now get the shots. HPV gets passed through intimate contact, particularly sex. Most people get HPV at some point in their lives, even if their bodies fend off the virus without them ever knowing. The virus causes tens of thousands of cancer cases across the country each year. Widespread vaccination would wipe out an estimated 80 percent of those.


Kansas Governor Promises Another Push for Medicaid Expansion

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly will push again this year to expand Medicaid in Kansas even though top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature are less receptive to the idea than they were last year. Kelly said during a recent Associated Press interview that she will "never stop fighting" for expansion. But the Republican super-majorities in both chambers became more conservative in last year's elections. Incoming Senate Majority Leader and Wichita Republican Gene Suellentrop said GOP leaders have a long list of issues they want to tackle, and Medicaid expansion "is not on the radar." Kelly responded that she never said passing an expansion bill would be easy.


Police Fatally Shoot Man Suspected of Killing Mother-in-Law

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas police officer has fatally shot a man who is suspected of killing his mother-in-law and shooting his wife.  Wichita police say 37-year-old Jason Williams was killed after a confrontation at his mother-in-law's home Wednesday. Police say Williams and his wife were divorcing and that he had been served with a protection from abuse order. After a confrontation that included Williams firing at least 25 shots, he agreed to allow his wife and the children to leave.  But police say Williams, who was armed with two handguns, followed his wife and kids and tried to prevent them from leaving.  This prompted an officer to fire and kill him.  The man's mother-in-law, 52-year-old Michelle Barr, was found dead inside the home.


December Has Been a Tough Month for Kansas Hospitals

TOPEKA, Kan (KNS) — Hospitals in Kansas have dealt with more COVID-19 inpatients this month than during any other month of the pandemic.  On a typical day last summer, Kansas was reporting anywhere from 100 to 300 people hospitalized with the coronavirus.  Then the virus surged this fall. By November, the daily average was just shy of one thousand hospitalized COVID-19 patients.  This month so far, the daily average is more than 11 hundred, the worst yet.  The virus has killed more than 2,500 Kansans.  

New Kansas Lawmaker Under Court Order Denied Committee Seats

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The top Democrat in the Kansas House is refusing to give an incoming lawmaker any committee assignments over issues that include an anti-stalking court order filed against him after he won his seat. House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer’s action this week is a sign that he and fellow Democrats plan to try to oust Representative-elect Aaron Coleman of Kansas City, Kansas, once the Republican-controlled Legislature convenes January 11. The 20-year-old Coleman narrowly ousted a veteran lawmaker in the Democratic primary in August and faced only write-in candidates in November. A woman who ran his primary opponent’s campaign accused him of harassing her. A judge issued a no-contact order on December 4.


Charge Dismissed in Garden City Restaurant Owner's Death

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors have dismissed a murder charge in the death of a Garden City restaurant owner but the charges could be refiled if new evidence is found. The Finney County attorney's office said it had dropped the charge against 32-year-old Marcus Roady. He was a suspect in the September 2019 death of 69-year-old Charles Ernie Ortiz, owner of the El Conquistador Restaurant. Police found Ortiz lying in the restaurant's parking lot suffering from numerous gunshot wounds. He was pronounced dead at a Garden City hospital. The Finney County attorney said in a statement that current circumstances dictate dismissal of the charge.


Federal Checks Salvage Otherwise Dreadful 2020 for Farms

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — U.S. farmers are expected to end the year with higher profits than last year and the best net farm income in seven years thanks to the government paying nearly 40% of their income. That's according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest farm income forecast. Farmer challenges in 2020 included the impact of trade disputes, drought and wind damage, and low prices for corn, cotton, wheat, chicken, cattle and hogs. Farm cash receipts are forecast to be the lowest in more than a decade. But farmers are expected to receive $46.5 billion from the U.S. government. That's the largest direct-to-farm payment ever. It lifts net farm income to $119.6 billion. And that's the highest profitability since 2013.


Wichita Area Earthquake Was Largest in Recent Series of Quakes

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Wichita area has been plagued with a series of small earthquakes since Thanksgiving and the Kansas Geological Survey says one of two quakes that rumbled Wednesday morning was the largest in that series.  The 3.9 magnitude earthquake that hit at 5:04 Wednesday morning was also the 32nd strongest in Kansas data.


Gilligan's Island TV Star "from Kansas" Dies at 82; COVID-19 Cite

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Dawn Wells, who played the wholesome character of Mary Ann, from Winfield, Kansas, on the hit 1960s TV show Gilligan's Island, has died. Her publicist says Wells died Wednesday morning in Los Angeles of causes related to COVID-19.  She was 82 years old.  Besides TV, film and stage acting credits, her other real-life roles included teacher and motivational speaker.  Born in Reno, Nevada, Wells represented her state in the 1959 Miss America pageant and quickly pivoted to an acting career. Her early TV roles came on shows including "77 Sunset Strip," "Maverick" and "Bonanza." Then came "Gilligan's Island," a goofy, good-natured sitcom that became an unlikely but indelible part of popular culture.


Actress Tina Louise Pays Tribute to Fellow TV Star Dawn Wells

LOS ANGELES (AP) — With the death of Dawn Wells, Tina Louise is now the last surviving member of the cast of "Gilligan's Island.'' Louise, who is 86, says she will always remember Wells' kindness. Louise says she hopes people will remember Wells the way she does -- "always with a smile on her face.''


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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