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Headlines for Thursday, April 16, 2020

 

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.)  

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Kansas Reports Nearly 1,600 Cases of COVID-19, Including 80 Deaths

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) -  As of 11 am Thursday, state health officials reported 1,588 cases of COVID-19 from 63 counties, including 80 deaths.  There have been 359 of 1,288 cases that required hospitalization. The Kansas City and Wichita areas have the most cases.  Find more updates here.   

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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. 

(–earlier reporting–)

Kansas Home's COVID-19 Deaths at 19; KDHE Seeking Hundreds to Trace Contacts

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. The outbreak at the Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation home in Wyandotte County has become the state's largest coronavirus cluster as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is working to bring on 400 volunteers to help trace people who’ve had contacts with people infected with coronavirus. The facility has a total of 116 residents and staff testing positive, making it the state's largest cluster of cases. The number of coronavirus cases statewide passed 1,500 on Thursday. 

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Jump in Claims Spurs Kansas to Ask People to Limit 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.

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Under Economic Pressure to Reopen Kansas, Governor Extends Stay-at-Home Order Until May 3

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Governor Laura Kelly faces increased pressure from the Republican-controlled Legislature to outline plans for reopening the state's economy.  The pressure increased Wednesday as she extended a statewide stay-at-home order and prepared to send money to hospitals struggling during the coronavirus pandemic. Kelly is keeping her shelter-in-place directive in place for all 2.9 million Kansas residents for an additional two weeks, until May 3. The Democratic governor called a teleconference meeting with top leaders legislative leaders to get permission to purchase another $10 million in personal protective equipment. She also plans to provide $17 million in state funds to struggling hospitals.

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Missouri Governor to Decide Soon on Reopening Missouri Businesses

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Governor Mike Parson says he's close to deciding whether to reopen the state economy, which has been largely frozen due to the efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Republican governor was among the last to impose a statewide stay-at-home order. It went into effect April 6 and runs through April 24, and has often stressed his desire to get business reopened and people back to work. He said during his news conference Wednesday that the state is preparing “to be able to move the economy forward.” He said he'll be able to say more “in the near future.” The state's death toll from the virus has risen to 153.

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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.

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For Meat Plant Workers, Virus Makes a Hard Job Perilous

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A cluster of coronavirus cases at a South Dakota pork plant has highlighted the susceptibility of meat processing workers, who stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the line and congregate in crowded spaces. The Smithfield Foods plant has reported 518 infections in employees and another 126 in people connected to them. Because the workers who slaughter and pack the nation's meat are vulnerable, so, too, is the supply of that meat. Union leaders wish more had been done sooner at the Smithfield plant. The company says difficulty in getting masks and thermal scanners led to delays in implementing safety measures. But it added hand-sanitizing stations and was scanning employee temperatures before the plant closed.

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FBI: Government's Response to Virus Spurred Would-Be Bomber

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Newly unsealed court documents say a Missouri man who was planning to bomb a Kansas City-area hospital was distressed by the government's response to the coronavirus crisis. Timothy Wilson, of Raymore, died March 24 in a firefight with FBI agents. The violent take-down followed a long-running domestic terrorism investigation that began in 2019. The Kansas City Star reports that Wilson considered attacking the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas, before settling on a plan to attack Belton Regional Medical Center. Investigators say he was motivated by racial, religious and anti-government animus, and moved up his timeline as the coronavirus made its way to Missouri.

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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.

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Kansas Supreme Court Cancels Arguments on Releasing Inmates

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court has canceled arguments from attorneys over a civil rights' group attempt to force the state to release prison inmates with preexisting medical conditions making them vulnerable to the novel coronavirus. The high court acted Tuesday night with arguments originally set for Wednesday afternoon in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas for seven inmates at state prisons in Ellsworth, Lansing  and Topeka. The Supreme Court sent the case to district court in Leavenworth County, home to the Lansing prison. The Supreme Court concluded there were disputes about facts in the case that first needed to be settled.   

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Former Jail Inmate Reaches $50K 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. 

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Shawnee Mission Teacher Charged with Child Sex Crime

SHAWNEE MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Authorities in northeastern Kansas say a Shawnee Mission elementary teacher has been charged with a child sex crime. The Kansas City Star reports that 63-year-old Kim Zier, who worked as a fifth-grade teacher at Pawnee Elementary School before being placed on leave, s charged in Johnson County District Court with one count of aggravated indecent liberties involving a child. Investigators say he is accused of lewdly fondling or touching a child under the age of 14 on Jan. 28. Zier was arrested Monday and charged the same day. He is scheduled to appear in court again April 22.

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Prosecutor Who Filed False Rape Case Faces New Challenger

UNDATED (AP) — 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 special prosecutor in Wyandotte County, said she hopes to address “systemic and cultural” issues, placing a focus on victim needs.

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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.

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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.

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Tribes Press Judge to Halt US-Canada Pipeline as Work Starts

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Native American tribes and environmental groups are pressuring a federal judge to shut down work on the construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to Nebraska less than two weeks after it started. They say pipeline sponsor TC Energy is rushing ahead amid the coronavirus pandemic, trying to complete significant work to make the pipeline harder to stop. President Donald Trump has championed the $8 billion line and last year gave it a special presidential authorization to circumvent a 2018 court ruling that blocked it. The same judge in Montana who made that ruling was presiding over a Thursday hearing decide if construction should be halted.

(–additional reporting–)

Judge Cancels Permit for Keystone XL Oil Pipeline

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A U.S. judge has canceled a key permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline that’s expected to stretch from Canada to Nebraska. The ruling Wednesday marks another setback for the disputed project that got underway less than two weeks ago following years of delays. The judge says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to adequately consider the pipeline’s effect on endangered species. Attorneys say the ruling won't shut down work that's started at the U.S.-Canada border crossing in Montana. But pipeline sponsor TC Energy will need the permit for future construction across hundreds of rivers and streams along Keystone’s 1,200-mile route.

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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.”

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Justice Department Takes Church's Side in 1st Amendment Lawsuit

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department has weighed in on a local Mississippi case involving a Christian church that says its religious freedoms were violated. Temple Baptist Church in Greenville has been holding drive-in services for congregants during the coronavirus outbreak. City leaders argue that the services violate stay-at-home orders because church gatherings are not considered essential and could have put people's lives in jeopardy. Church officials believe they have been singled out for their religion, especially after eight police officers were sent last weekend to ticket the faithful, $500 apiece, for attending services. The Justice Department took the side of the church on Tuesday.

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2 Hurt After Floor Collapses at Kansas State's Hale Library

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State University says two workers sustained minor injuries when part of a floor collapsed at Hale Library.The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that contractors had been pouring a new floor when the collapse happened around 9:15 a.m. Tuesday. The collapse involved an area of the third floor that measured about 20 feet by 20 feet wide (6.10 meters by 6.10 meters).The two injured people returned to work after being evaluated by Riley County Emergency Medical Services. Neither worked for the university.

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Judge Awards $240,000 to Kansas Man Whose Burglary Conviction Was Overturned

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas man who spent nearly two years behind bars before his 1987 burglary conviction was reversed by the Kansas Supreme Court has been awarded nearly $240,000. Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Tuesday in a news release that it will not appeal a Sedgwick County Court ruling that Bobby Harper is entitled to compensation. Harper also was granted a certificate of innocence, along with education and counseling benefits. Lawmakers passed the wrongful compensation statute in 2018.

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WSU Seeks to Raze Cessna Stadium, Build Smaller Version

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita State University is seeking to tear down its 74-year-old Cessna Stadium and replace it with a new smaller, multi-purpose stadium. The Wichita Eagle reports that the university has asked the Kansas Board of Regents to allow it to raze the 30,000-seat stadium. Cessna is currently home to the Wichita State track and field team and is also home the nation's largest high school track and field meet. The proposal leaves in limbo what would happen to the Kansas high school state track and field meet, which has hosted around 3,500 athletes for all six championship meets for boys and girls for the last four decades.

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