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Headlines for Thursday, December 24, 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. 

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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 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. 

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Vaccine Distribution Continues in Kansas as New Vaccine Expected

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) —Kansas should receive 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 nearly 50 thousand doses of another version of the coronavirus vaccine, this one from Moderna. Moderna’s vaccine can be stored in regular freezers, making distribution easier. Pfizer’s requires extra 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 than it’s set to receive in the coming days to start giving shots to all of those older residents.  

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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.'' 

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Senator Moran Says He Hopes President Trump Will Sign Pending Congressional Coronavirus Relief Bill 

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) — President Trump said the coronavirus relief bill says the bill doesn't do enough to help Americans. The president wants the bill to provide $2000 dollar stimulus checks to Americans, not the $600 dollars in the latest bill, a compromise between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.. Moran says he agrees that Kansans should receive more aid, but he says it should come in a new relief package after the current one is passed. "The president is asking for more and we'll be happy to work with the president and my colleagues in congress to see what more can be done." Moran said. "But don't slow down the progress that this bill will provide." He said he's worried further debate over the bill will delay support from getting to Kansans. Moran made the comments while he was in Wichita on Wednesday to observe as coronavirus vaccine doses are being distributed.

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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.

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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. 

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Deputy Named to Lead COVID-19-Stressed Kansas Labor Agency

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Laura Kelly has named the Kansas Department of Labor’s deputy secretary as its top administrator. Her announcement Tuesday showed she still is working to find another, permanent leader for an agency that struggled for months to process claims from workers left unemployed by the coronavirus pandemic. Acting Secretary Brett Flachsbarth is the third person to lead the Department of Labor in less than seven months. Kelly's first labor secretary was Delia Garcia, and she resigned in June amid problems with the system for distributing unemployment benefits. Her replacement was Acting Secretary Ryan Wright, and he was allowed by law to serve only six months.

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Douglas County Dissolves Drug Enforcement Unit

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is ending the operation of a special drug-focused unit, calling its structure outdated as the department moves away from focusing on “low-level users.” Sheriff’s office spokesman Jenn Hethcoat told the Lawrence Journal-World that the decision to dissolve the unit that works with Lawrence police was finalized in November. Hethcoat says the office will continue to operate a special investigative unit but with a focus on crimes related to drug activity, “not low-level users who would benefit more directly from behavioral health support than incarceration.” The county’s new sheriff, Jay Armbrister, takes office January 11. Hethcoat says Armbrister initiated the operational change.

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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.

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No Immediate Ruling After Hearing on Fate of DACA Program

HOUSTON (AP) — A federal judge didn't immediately issue a ruling following a court hearing on the fate of a U.S. program shielding immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. During a nearly 3 1/2 hour hearing on Tuesday, Texas and eight other states including Kansas asked U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which provides limited protections to about 650,000 people. The program was enacted by former President Barack Obama in 2012. Defending the program is a group of DACA recipients represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Suing alongside Texas are Kansas, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and West Virginia — states that all have Republican governors or state attorneys general.

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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.

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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.

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KCC Says Recent Earthquakes Not Linked to Oil & Gas Industry 

WICHITA, Kan. (Kansas News Service) – The Kansas Corporation Commission says recent earthquakes in Wichita are not related to the oil and gas industry. Wichita has had more than a dozen minor earthquakes since Thanksgiving. One last Saturday had a magnitude of 3.7, triggering a KCC investigation. The Wichita Eagle reports that the KCC looked at wastewater injection wells located within 6 miles of the epicenters of the 15 earthquakes that have rattled Wichita in the past month and found that none had recent volume increase. It said it found no link to the oil and gas industry. Geologists think east Wichita sits along the edge of the Nemaha Ridge, an underground system with several faults, which may be the source of the quakes.

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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.

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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.”

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Police: Kansas Officer Fatally Shot Suspect After Car Rammed

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say a police officer fatally shot a bank robbery suspect after the man rammed a stolen pickup truck into the officer’s police cruiser. 50-year-old Paul Peraza was killed Monday after allegedly robbing a credit union and leading police on a chase that ended in a crash. Police say that after striking an SUV, Peraza put the truck in reverse and struck a police cruiser, prompting the officer to fire the fatal shots. The officer is on leave pending an investigation. Police say Peraza had previous bank robbery convictions in California and Oklahoma.

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