Kansas Agency Low on COVID-19 Test Kits; State Offers Loans
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas health department's top administrator says it could all but run out of coronavirus testing kits over the weekend. Dr. Lee Norman said Friday that the health department could then be forced to rely on private labs and see delays in getting results. Norman said that testing wouldn't stop altogether because the agency would hold back a few of its tests for infected people who've been hospitalized. Norman said private labs typically take longer to report results than the state's one day. His comments came the same day Kansas launched a new loan program to help businesses hit by the pandemic.
UPDATE: Kansas COVID-19 Cases Increase to 44
TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Kansas health officials say the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has risen to 44. The largest increase in cases came from Johnson County, which increased from 16 cases to 23.
The Kansas News Service maintains this online resource about the pandemic: Updated Regularly: What Kansans Need to Know About COVID-19 and Coronavirus
Kansas Starts Loan Program to Aid Bars, Restaurants, Motels
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has launched a program to provide short-term, no-interest loans to bars, restaurants, taverns and motels struggling to cover operating expenses because of the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic. The program announced Friday by Gov. Laura Kelly and state Commerce Secretary David Toland will make up to $5 million in loans. Several communities, including Kansas City-area suburbs, Topeka, and Lawrence, have told businesses to stop allowing dine-in services. Kansas Labor Secretary Delia Garcia said the state has received more than 11,000 initial unemployment claims this week, a 524% increase over last week's figure. Kansas has confirmed more than 30 coronavirus cases.
Kansas Lawmakers Approve Transportation Plan Seen as Economic Stimulus
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have approved a new, 10-year transportation program. Many lawmakers see the transportation bill approved Thursday as a much-needed, $10 billion stimulus to counter the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic. The Republican-controlled Legislature made promising funding for highway, road and bridge improvements a priority as it tackled measures for addressing the new coronavirus and pushed to finish a $19.9 billion annual budget to keep state government operating after June. Lawmakers planned to finish what they considered their most pressing work before taking an early and unusually long spring break. The transportation plan had broad bipartisan support in both chambers. (Learn more about this story.)
Kansas GOP Lawmakers Curb Democratic Governor's Emergency Powers
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers have extended a state of emergency prompted by the coronavirus crisis after making sure it gave the GOP-controlled Legislature oversight over the actions of Democratic Governor Laura Kelly. The Senate voted 39-0 and the House voted 115-0 Thursday to approve a resolution to extend the state of emergency until May 1 and to allow legislative leaders to extend it further every 30 days. Kelly declared a state of emergency last week, and without the resolution, it would have expired March 27.
Kansas K-12 Tests Canceled; Wichita Officials Quarantined
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson says state standardized tests have been canceled this year because of concerns about the spread of coronavirus. Watson told reporters Thursday that tests are off the table unless something changes “dramatically.” Governor Laura Kelly issued an executive order this week temporarily closing all public and private school buildings. Meanwhile, Wichita mayor Brandon Whipple and three city council members are self-quarantined after learning that two people at a conference they attended last week tested positive for the coronavirus.
University of Kansas Warns of Coronavirus Scams and Security Threats
LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — The University of Kansas is warning employees and students about new cyber-threats related to the coronavirus. The KU IT Security Office has received reports from the federal government as well as nearly 100 reports from members of the KU community that criminals are using the COVID-19 pandemic to send phishing messages, malicious attachments and links to malicious websites. These messages claim to offer COVID-19 infection maps, official notices and other misinformation. Other malicious information may be delivered via text message, WhatsApp, TikTok and other social media platforms. Attackers know people are frightened, that the situation is continually changing and confusing and that people are hungry for information. This makes everyone more vulnerable to social engineering and cyber-attacks.
Any KU students or employees receiving a suspicious message should not respond, click on links or open any attachments. Instead, such messages should be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org and then deleted immediately. For more information about cyber-threats and COVID-19, visit the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency website.
Schooling at Home? Selma Online Offers Free Civil Rights Lessons Amid Virus
RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) — A new online project seeks to bring the lessons of the U.S. civil rights movement to students. The Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University unveiled Selma Online this month. It's a free, online teaching platform that aims to transform how the civil rights movement is taught in middle and high schools. It uses footage from the 2014 movie "Selma" about the beating of peaceful demonstrators in Alabama and attempts to show students how events in 1965 shaped voting rights. Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. says the project will engage students who are at home because of the coronavirus.
GOP Kills Kansas Governor's Plans on Services, Energy Office
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislators in Kansas have killed Democratic Governor Laura Kelly's plans to merge two social services agencies and create an independent energy policy office. The GOP-controlled House on Wednesday passed two resolutions rejecting executive orders Kelly issued in January. Under the state constitution, the votes prevent the orders from taking effect. Democrats saw the votes as partisan, but Republicans said Kelly didn't provide enough details about her plans. One order would have combined the Department for Children and Families with the Department for Aging and Disability Services. The other would have moved the state's energy policy office out from under its utility regulatory commission.
Kansas Policy Allows Bars, Restaurants to Sell Alcohol to Go
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas bars, breweries and restaurants with liquor licenses will be temporarily allowed to sell bottled beer and wine to-go during the pandemic. The policy announced in a memo Wednesday by the director of Alcoholic Beverage Control says to-go liquor sales can take place as long as the beverages are opened before leaving the premises and are sealed in a proper to-go bag. The Kansas City Star reported the policy applies to restaurants with liquor licenses, bars, clubs, farm wineries, micro-breweries, micro-distilleries and liquor stores. Kansas rules are temporary and will continue ``until further notice.''
Wichita Man Sentenced to Life for Abusing Children
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita man has been sentenced to life in prison for sexually and physically abusing children. Eric McFadden was sentenced Wednesday in federal court. A jury found McFadden guilty of multiple charges in February. Federal prosecutors say a 13-year-old boy walked to a police station in April 2018 to report that his mother's boyfriend was abusing his siblings. The boy was the oldest of nine siblings. All were taken into protective custody. Police determined that McFadden sexually abused two girls in the family and beat all of the children with belts and extension cords.
Baldwin City Woman Gets Life Prison Sentence for Role in Killing at Perry Lake
OSKALOOSA, Kan. (AP) — A Baldwin City woman has been sentenced to life in prison for her role in the 2018 shooting death of her mother's boyfriend. Jefferson County Attorney Josh Ney announced this week that Ashlyn Hemmerling was sentenced after pleading guilty to first-degree murder last year in the March 2018 shooting death of 22-year-old Taylor Dean Sawyer, of Lawrence, in a remote area of Perry Lake. Her boyfriend, 23-year-old Jonathan Blevins, was sentenced last year to life in prison with no chance of a parole for 50 years. Authorities said previously Hemmerling helped plan the shooting, which likely involved a domestic dispute and drug use.
Nation's Hospitals, Including LMH Health, Put Elective Procedures on Hold During COVID-19 Crisis
LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — Hospitals across the nation have begun cancelling all elective procedures in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. Several hospital systems, including LMH Health in Lawrence, had already suspended elective procedures. Beginning Monday, the Lawrence hospital will put other non-emergency procedures, like screening mammograms, on hold. LMH says all non-urgent outpatient exams scheduled on or after March 23 will now be postponed. (Learn more about new procedures and protocols now in place at LMH Health, formerly known as Lawrence Memorial Hospital.)
Johnson County Community College Hires New President
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Johnson County Community College has hired a new president. The college's board on Thursday hired Andrew Bowne, who is currently senior vice president of Indiana's 18-campus community college system. Bowne will become president in July. The Kansas City Star reports the college's Board of Trustees met remotely and only two people were in the room when Bowne's hiring was announced because of concerns about the coronavirus. Like nearly all colleges in Kansas, Johnson County Community College will move to online-only classes when school resumes after spring break. County health officials announced last week a woman associated with the college tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
Widespread Discrimination Alleged at Kansas City VA Hospital
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Black employees at the Kansas City Veterans Affairs Medical Center say they have faced years of discrimination from supervisors and retaliation if they report the problems. Their complaints include being subjected to jokes about lynchings and being compared to monkeys, being secretly monitored by white co-workers, lack of promotions and being fired without cause. The workers say complaints they filed have been ignored. Kansas Senator Jerry Moran is asking the hospital for documentation about the complaints and what steps were taken to address the concerns. A hospital spokesman says the medical center doesn't tolerate discrimination.
Kansas Announces New Quarantine Mandates
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP / KPR) - The state of Kansas has issued strict quarantine mandates for people who have traveled or had close contact with those with confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, part of an effort to limit community spread. But community spread was inevitable. Lee Norman, the state's health secretary, says five of 11 cases in Johnson County are the result of community spread. Overall, the state's number of COVID-10 cases ticked up to 21. Health officials say Johnson County residents with mild symptoms will not be tested but instead advised to self-isolate. Elsewhere, the Douglas County Health Officer announced that public gatherings of more than 10 people will be prohibited in the county until April 1. The order restricts the size of all indoor and outdoor gatherings with the exception of governmental and judicial functions, healthcare facilities, private business operations, religious and faith-based activities, weddings and funerals. The order also closes restaurants, bars, taverns, night clubs and movie theaters. However, restaurants will be allowed to provide drive-through and delivery services of food and beverages at this time.
Help Available for Kansas Workers Taking Hit Due to Pandemic
WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) — As thousands of workers across the U.S. are in danger of losing their jobs, President Trump is looking into making direct cash payments to Americans part of a federal emergency stimulus package. The aid package is designed to lessen the blow from the coronavirus pandemic. KWCH TV reports that the Kansas Department of Labor is now fielding a high volume of calls and questions. Thousands of Kansans are now working from home. Others expect pay cuts, layoffs and furloughs. The unprecedented situation brought on by the coronavirus raises many questions, but help is available. Unemployment insurance benefits are available for anyone who is involuntarily unemployed as a result of COVID-19. The amount of benefits depends on a person's salary, but will be within a window of $122 to $488 per week. The average payout in Kansas is nearly $400 per week. Benefits apply to those who are not working and not being paid. Help is also available to workers who have seen their hours or wages reduced due to the virus.
This week, the Kansas Department of Labor will also consider benefits for parents who are forced to take a leave of absence from work to be home with children since schools have been closed through the end of the academic year. On Tuesday Kansas lawmakers passed a bill that would increase the length of time you can collect unemployment insurance from 16 weeks to 26 weeks. The idea was originally proposed earlier this session to deal with aviation layoffs in Wichita. Now lawmakers are saying it can apply to everyone. Supporters say the bill is an important safety net if the crisis is longlasting.
Survey Suggests Virus Outbreak Will Slow Midwest Economy
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A new survey of bankers in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states suggests they expect the economy to slow down over the next few months as the nation deals with the coronavirus outbreak. The overall index for the region fell to 35.5 in March from February's healthy 51.6 reading. Any score below 50 suggests a shrinking economy. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss said 61 percent of the bankers surveyed expect the measures being taken to fight the coronavirus to lead to a recession. Bankers from Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.
A Word About Our Friends at the Lawrence Journal-World
As the pandemic continues, the Lawrence Journal-World is making coverage of COVID-19 available outside of the paywall on LJWorld.com.
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.