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Headlines for Thursday, April 23, 2020

Hundreds in Topeka Protest Governor Kelly's Stay-at-Home Order

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Hundreds of people waved signs and drove vehicles around the Statehouse to protest Gov. Laura Kelly's stay-at-home order, which they say is ruining the economy and violating their civil rights. Similar protests against stay-at-home orders have been held across the country as pressure increases to reopen businesses. About 150 people stood on the south side of the Statehouse or walked around the building with signs and American flags as at least 200 cars drove slowly around the building. Health and government officials contend the stay-at-home orders have helped slow the spread of the coronavirus.

(–related–)

Amid Protests, Governor Says May 3 Reopening of Kansas Remains in Doubt

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Laura Kelly says her goal is to start reopening the Kansas economy on May 3 but she may not be able to do it because the state is “nowhere near” having the supplies needed for adequate coronavirus testing. Kelly’s comments Thursday came after hundreds of people protested around the Statehouse against a stay-at-home order from the governor set to expire May 3. Kelly said a key issue in lifting restrictions is being able to test enough to identify and contain outbreaks quickly and take steps to contain them locally. Kansas has struggled to get enough supplies from the federal government and private companies.

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Coronavirus Prompts Kansas to Ease Medical Licensing Rules

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Laura Kelly has suspended multiple regulations licensing medical professionals to make it easier for them to work in health care facilities and nursing homes. The executive order Kelly issued Wednesday suspends requirements that doctors supervise physician assistants, advanced practice practical nurses and licensed practical nurses. The order also allows nurses with inactive or lapsed licenses to provide services and permits medical or nursing students to volunteer to work in health care facilities.  Kelly also signed an order that would allow bars, restaurants and clubs to sell alcohol not in its original container for takeout orders. 

(–earlier version–)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Governor Laura Kelly has suspended multiple regulations licensing medical professionals to make it easier for them to work in health care facilities and nursing homes.  The executive order Kelly issued Wednesday suspends requirements that doctors supervise physician assistants, advanced practice practical nurses and licensed practical nurses. The order also allows nurses with inactive or lapsed licenses to provide services and permits medical or nursing students to volunteer to work in health care facilities.  Kelly said she cannot address broader personnel challenges in the health care system with an executive order and called on the Legislature to consider rewriting licensing laws.

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KCK Rehab Site Where 25 Have Died of Virus Gets Inspected

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Inspections are underway at a Kansas City, Kansas, rehabilitation facility where 25 people have died of COVID-19 and another 91 have contracted the disease.  The deaths at Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation account for nearly a quarter of the state's 107 deaths from the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus.  Riverbend provides short-term rehabilitation for people recovering from medical issues as well as long-term care. Even with the continued rise in both coronavirus cases and COVID-19-related deaths, pressure from the Republican-controlled Legislature continues to mount on Democratic Governor Laura Kelly to outline a plan for a phased reopening of the state's economy.

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Kansas Mulls Coronavirus Tests for All in Prison, Care Homes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state's top public health administrator says Kansas is considering testing all prison inmates and residents of long-term care homes for coronavirus. Dr. Lee Norman made the comment Wednesday as long-term care homes accounted for more than half  of the state's reported COVID-19-related deaths and a state prison dealt with a major outbreak. Norman said the state hasn't had the testing materials to take such a step but is approaching the ability to do so. Governor Laura Kelly also has said expanded testing is key to gradually reopening the state's economy after she imposed a statewide stay-at-home order March 30.

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Kansas COVID-19 Cases Climb Past 2,400, Including 110 Deaths

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — As of 11 am Thursday, state health officials reported 2,482 cases of COVID-19 in Kansas, including 112 deaths.  Cases are reported in 74 of the state's 105 counties.  (Get the latest updates from KDHE.) 

TOP FIVE COUNTIES for COVID-19 CASES

Wyandotte County = 484
Johnson County = 403
Sedgwick County = 314
Ford County = 288
Leavenworth County = 154 

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Kansas GOP Official Urges 2 Candidates to Exit Senate Race

TOPEKA, Kan. (The Kansas City Star) — A top GOP official is calling on two Republican candidates to drop out of the race for the U.S. Senate. Party chairman Mike Kuckelman wrote to Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle and former Johnson County Commissioner Dave Lindstrom on Thursday to tell them that they lack a viable path to the nomination to replace retiring GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, noting in part their weak fundraising. Kuckelman said in the letters obtained by The Kansas City Star that his request was for the “good of the Party.” Neither Wagle nor Lindstrom planned to take the advice. 

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Topeka Mayor, Council Cut Own Pay as Virus Ravages Budget

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka's mayor and city council members have voted to cut their own pay by 6% as they seek ways to deal with plummeting city tax revenues in the wake of measures to slow the COVID-19 outbreak. The Capital-Journal reported that the group had been considering a measure that would have temporarily reduced their salaries by 3%, but voted instead Tuesday to double that cut. The deeper cut came at the suggestion of Councilman Tony Emerson, who noted that City Manager Brent Trout had already voluntarily accepted a 6% pay cut. Trout has also cut the salaries of management and executive staff by 3% and is seeking a similar cut for city employees.

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Topeka Fire, Police Unions Reject Call for 3% Pay Cut

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Unions representing Topeka’s police officers and firefighters have rejected the city’s proposal that those city employees accept a temporary 3% pay cut. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports those pay cuts were suggested as a way to deal with plummeting city tax revenues in the wake of measures to slow the COVID-19 outbreak. An attorney representing the unions suggested in a letter Wednesday that the city consider alternative measures before pushing a pay cut on first responders. Those measures included using the city’s general reserve fund and relying on upcoming police and firefighter retirements for cost-savings. Topeka's mayor and city council members voted Tuesday to cut their own pay by 6%.

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Kansas Official's Comments on Coronavirus Raise Eyebrows

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A city commissioner in Manhattan, Kansas, is drawing attention after his frustration with the government's reaction to the coronavirus pandemic boiled over at a commission meeting. Commissioner Mark Hatesohl said at a meeting Tuesday that he was nearly to the point of wishing everyone would get the virus so the pandemic could ease and businesses could reopen. On Thursday, Hatesohl clarified that he was not hoping everyone would get the virus. He says he's frustrated by the state and local stay-at-home orders that are devastating businesses. And he believes health officials have overstated the threat of the virus because most people recover.  

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Coronavirus Slows Work on National Biosecurity Lab in Kansas

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic will delay the completion of a national biosecurity lab in Manhattan. Project officials say the pandemic has slowed shipping and manufacturing of some construction materials for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. And several out-of-state workers cannot get to Manhattan because of travel restrictions across the country. The Manhattan Mercury reports the project is not subject to Gov. Laura Kelly's stay-at-home order and project officials had hoped the construction would be completed by December. But the completion could be delayed by 2.5 months, although project officials say the factors in the delay are constantly changing. 

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KU to Distribute Nearly $7.6 Million in CARES Act Funding to Students

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - University of Kansas officials say the school will distribute nearly $7.6 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding directly to students who have significant need and who are facing financial challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic.  The total amount will be split among KU’s campuses, with almost $6.8 million earmarked for students at the Lawrence and Edwards campuses, and nearly $806,000 for students at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas.  In alignment with Department of Education recommendations that universities prioritize students with the greatest need, Chancellor Doug Girod says KU will distribute the funding in two ways:

  • Recognizing that many students have financial challenges, funds will be set aside for students to access through a short online application. Applications will be quickly reviewed. Applications for assistance must be for housing, food, technology, or health care needs that resulted from the pandemic, as required by the federal act. 
  • KU will distribute direct awards to students receiving Pell grants and who are already defined by the federal government as having exceptional need.

KU expects to receive its federal funding in the coming days. In addition to emailing students directly, information will be shared at the Lawrence and Edwards CARES Act page and the KU Medical Center CARES Act page.

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Coronavirus Clobbers Kansas Tax Revenue Projections

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS / AP) — The coronavirus is battering projections for how much Kansas can expect to collect in state taxes. A new revenue forecast shows a plunge of almost $1.3 billion in the next 14 months. The virus has shuttered businesses and led to massive layoffs. J.G. Scott, the head of the Kansas Legislative Research Department, says what’s different about this economic downturn compared to a normal recession is the speed at which the revenues are projected to fall.  Lawmakers could return as soon as next week for the wrap-up part of the legislative session, and the revenue forecast says they’ll need to cut spending by 8% or more. They already passed a basic budget, but the new numbers estimate a $650 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year starting in July.  

Governor Laura Kelly called the revenue projection sobering and said state leaders will have to make some difficult budget decisions.  "Although it was news we've been bracing for since the coronavirus began disrupting our lives in early March, the reality is no less jaw dropping," she said.  Kelly will be working with the legislature on the budget over the next few months, though she's hoping the federal government will send some stimulus dollars to state governments.  Kelly said the state is ramping up its contact tracing efforts, which she says is needed to lift the statewide shelter in place order. But she still wants federal support to boost testing capacity.  

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Protestors Take Message to Missouri and Kansas Statehouses, Demanding States Reopen for Business

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP / WIBW) — Protesters gathered outside the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City to demand that the state reopen to business after weeks of government-imposed social distancing aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Tuesday's protest was among several across the country over the past week. In Jefferson City, many of the several hundred protesters waved the American flag and chanted “USA! USA!” A sign on a car window stated, “I prefer dangerous liberty over peaceful slavery.” Some of the protesters wore masks, but many did not. Several also stood near each other, ignoring recommendations that people remain at least 6 feet apart.  

A similar protest is expected today (THUR) at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.  According to WIBW TV, more than 1,000 people have either indicated an interest or plan on attending the event scheduled for noon.  Organizers are telling those attending to stay in their cars, but circle the statehouse, honk horns and wave flags.  “It is time to open Kansas back up for business. It is time to converge on Topeka and show Governor Kelly that WE THE PEOPLE of Kansas can be safe, responsible, and LOUD!”, the group said in their Facebook event page called Operation Gridlock Topeka!

On Monday, about 100 people attended a rally in Kansas City.  The event near the Country Club Plaza followed similar protests that began across the country last week, with some events drawing much larger crowds.  The protesters waved signs and U.S. flags and yelled their belief that the orders are unnecessary, are damaging the economy and violate the rights of U.S. citizens.

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Topeka Officer Who Was Being Dragged Shot and Wounded Driver

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Topeka police say a motorist who was shot and wounded by an officer who was being dragged by the suspect's car has been released from the hospital and taken to jail. Police say 19-year-old Dujontez Jaimandre Jerome Owens has been charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, aggravated battery of an officer while fleeing and other counts. Police say the shooting happened Sunday afternoon when a Topeka police officer was dragged by Owens' car when Owens took off being stopped for a traffic violation. The officer suffered minor injuries in the incident and was treated at the scene. The officer, whose name has not been released, is on paid leave during the investigation.

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Missouri Governor Parson Grants Clemency to Columbia Business Owner

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Governor Mike Parson has granted clemency to a Columbia man who was facing a return to prison after an earlier parole on a drug charge was overturned. Parson on Wednesday commuted the sentence for Dimetrious Woods, who was convicted in 2007 on a drug charge. He was released in 2017 after a state law involving sentencing for drug violations was modified. However, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in February the change in state law should not have been applied retroactively to Woods and others in his situation. Woods said Wednesday afternoon that the news he would not be returning to prison was “overwhelming."

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Shirley Knight, Oscar-Nominated Actress, Dead at 83

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shirley Knight, the Kansas-born actress who was nominated for two Oscars early in her career and went on to play an astonishing variety of roles in movies, TV and the stage, has died. She was 83. Kaitlin Hopkins says her mother passed away Wednesday of natural causes in San Marcos, Texas. Knight's career carried her from Kansas to Hollywood and then to the New York theater and London and back to Hollywood. She was nominated for two Tonys, winning one. In recent years, she had a recurring role as Phyllis Van de Kamp in the long-running ABC show "Desperate Housewives," gaining one of her many Emmy nominations.

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KU School of Engineering Produces Personal Protective Equipment to Help Healthcare Workers

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) — The University of Kansas campus may be largely shut down, but faculty, staff and graduate students at the School of Engineering are helping out in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, using their skills and resources to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers.  KU Engineering is designing alternative equipment based on the need and the constraints, such as raw materials, to make the equipment more comfortable and easier to use for longer periods of time.  “The School of Engineering continues the challenging work of adapting to circumstances and serving our community,” said Candan Tamerler, associate dean for research at the School of Engineering. “I am proud of our resilience, resourcefulness and generosity. It’s a powerful reminder of who we are.”  Using the school’s collection of 3D printers, the KU team is manufacturing personal protective equipment to be used by health care workers in The University of Kansas Health System.  

Graduate students Bryce Stottlemire and Raj Bose use the printers to produce face shields and the headbands that hold them in place. They printed 100 sets of the devices — using open-source plans available online — and plan to deliver them to health care workers and use them on KU’s campus.  “This is the reason I’m a bioengineer – to serve people the best I can through devices and potential therapies,” said Stottlemire, who is pursuing a doctorate in bioengineering.  Stottlemire will soon pivot to producing specialized N95 masks with replaceable air filters.

For Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, professor of aerospace engineering, the pandemic is personal: His youngest daughter works in radiology at a Kansas City hospital that is short of personal protective equipment — and what is available to the doctors and nurses there, she told him, is often uncomfortable.  So Barrett-Gonzalez designed a new, lightweight polycarbonate shield that is more comfortable and easier to clean. He also designed a device to make regular face masks more comfortable, an adjustable loop that fits around the back of the head instead of the common one-size-fits-all mask that loops around the user's ears.  Barrett-Gonzalez said he expects to make the plans available online.  (Read more about this story.)

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Missouri National Guard to Help Hand Out School Meals in Kansas City Area, Other Communities

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri National Guard members will help distribute food to school children in some districts that are struggling to find enough workers to help. Officials with the National Guard and the Missouri Department of Education announced Wednesday that nearly 200 National Guard members will participate in distributing or delivering food to students for the next several weeks. The agencies say the participating schools are generally in small or rural districts. The districts participating are located in Cape Girardeau, two Kansas City-area districts, one in St. Louis, Marshall, Bonne Terre, Osage County, Portageville, Essex, Warrenton and Wright City.

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Wichita Officer Will Not Face Charges in Fatal Shooting

A Wichita police officer who fatally shot a man in January 2019 will not face charges. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett announced Tuesday the officer shot and killed Geoffrey Morris in self-defense. Morris was shot after officers surrounded his car to try and arrest him on outstanding warrants. Bennett said in his report that Morris backed up and hit a law enforcement vehicle then then drove forward toward an officer, who fired because he thought he might be hit by the car. Morris died two days later at a hospital. The officer's name has not been released. 

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China Calls Coronavirus Lawsuit Brought by State of Missouri "Very Absurd"

BEIJING (AP) — China is slamming a lawsuit brought against it by the U.S. state of Missouri over the coronavirus pandemic as “very absurd.” Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang says the legal action has “no factual and legal basis at all,” and is defending China’s response to the outbreak, which has largely subsided in the country where it was first detected. China's government has strenuously denied accusations that officials delayed reporting on the extent of the outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, despite reports that worries over political stability were placed above public health concerns.

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Mid-April in North America Has Been an Unforgiving Time, and with the 2020 Pandemic... It Is Again

UNDATED (AP) — For a generation, mid-April has delivered some of American life’s most difficult moments. It's a week when young men have shot up schools. Terrorists have blown up fellow humans. A religious sect has clashed with the government. And environmental calamity has sullied the ocean.  Now those traumatic anniversaries of the past 27 years are rolling by as Americans experience one of the most disruptive moments in their history: the coronavirus, and the effort to contain it. What is it about this one particular week in April, anyway?  Here's a look back at some horrific stories that all happened in Mid April.
 
April 19, 1993: Flames engulf the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, after the U.S. government raided the compound.  At least 76 people, including about two dozen teens and children, died that day, but the exact number remains unknown because of the “extensive burning” and “commingling of bodies.”  At least 20 people - including the leader of the religious group, David Koresh, and some of the children - died of gunshot wounds.  A 3-year-old was stabbed to death. Investigators concluded the Davidians shot themselves or each other as the fire broke out.

April 19, 1995: The Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City explodes.  It was all but destroyed by a domestic terrorist’s bomb, killing 168 people.

April 20, 1999: Massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado.  Two students went on a shooting rampage in the school in the southwest Denver suburb of Littleton.  When the rampage ended, 15 people were dead (including the two gunmen) and 24 were injured.  Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis organizes a yearly remembrance ceremony, but the lack of human contact due to the coronavirus made this year’s anniversary especially tough.

April 16, 2007: A shooting rampage hits the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.  An undergraduate student at Virginia Tech shot 49 students and faculty members on campus, killing 32 and wounding 17. The gunman, a senior at the school, killed himself after his rampage.

April 21, 2010: The Deepwater Horizon oil rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, creating an oil spill that will become the largest marine oil spill in history.  The explosion killed 11 workers and injured 17.  The volume of oil escaping the damaged well—originally estimated by BP to be about 1,000 barrels per day—was thought by U.S. government officials to have peaked at more than 60,000 barrels per day.

April 15, 2013: The Boston Marathon bombing maims and kills.  Two homemade pressure cooker bombs detonated 14 seconds and 210 yards apart at 2:49 pm, near the finish line of the race, killing 3 people and injuring several hundred others, including 16 people who lost limbs.  Three days later, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released images of two suspects, later identified as Chechen Kyrgyzstani-American brothers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. They killed an MIT policeman, kidnapped a man in his car, and had a shootout with the police, during which two officers were severely injured, one of whom died a year later. Tamerlan was shot several times, and his brother Dzhokhar ran him over while escaping in the stolen car; Tamerlan died soon after.

April 19, 2020: Canadian police say multiple people were killed, including the suspect, after a shooting rampage across the province of Nova Scotia.   

April 23, 2020: The coronavirus pandemic continues to haunt America, particularly New York City, where the virus has left thousands of people sick or dead and most businesses shut down.

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USDA Holds Virtual Career Expo April 28 for Kansas City Area Jobs

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is holding a virtual job fair for positions in the Kansas City area.  USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) have partnered with the University of Missouri to host a joint Virtual Career Expo on April 28. A similar event last year attracted more than 400 attendees. Both agencies relocated most of their operations to the Kansas City region last fall and are continuing to grow their workforces.  ERS and NIFA continue to fill open positions and current listings are on USAJobs.  Vacancies include positions for economists, geographers, accountants, grant specialists, financial specialists, and communications specialists, among others.  ERS anticipates trends and emerging issues in agriculture, food, the environment, and rural America and conducts economic research to inform public and private decision making.  NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and extension to solve societal challenges. Through an integrated approach, NIFA ensures scientific discoveries make their way into communities, farms, and classrooms.  Interested applicants may register for the Career Expo and sign up for information sessions online. Sessions will be held virtually, beginning at 2 pm with the last session at 4 pm CDT.  Visit USAJobs for current open positions at both agencies.

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SCOTUS: Companies Can't Dodge EPA Regulations on Water

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court has ruled that sewage plants and other industries can't avoid environmental requirements under landmark clean-water protections when they send dirty water on an indirect route to rivers, oceans and other navigable waterways. The justices rejected the Trump administration's views in a 6-3 vote Thursday. The court held that the discharge of polluted water into the ground, rather than directly into nearby waterways, doesn't relieve an industry of complying with the Clean Water Act. The decision came in a closely watched case from Hawaii involving treated sewage that indirectly reaches the Pacific Ocean. 

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Bugged: Earth's Insect Population Shrinks 27% in 30 Years

KENSINGTON, Maryland (AP) _ A big picture look at global insect decline shows land bugs are disappearing at a rate of nearly 1% a year. That means the world has lost more than a quarter of its insects in the last 30 years. Thursday's study in the journal Science finds the declines are more nuanced, varied and smaller than other studies. But scientists still call the results alarming and jaw dropping. Insects like bees are needed to pollinate much of our food. Scientists see no single global cause but fault habitat loss and urbanization. There's hope. Freshwater bugs are increasing, likely due to cleaner rivers and streams. 

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