Kansas News Service

Thousands of meatpacking workers in southwest Kansas continue to wait for any news about when they’ll get the COVID-19 vaccine.

That wait drags on even as some counties vaccinate college faculty, first responders and postal workers, and as Kansas launches a new program to get a first dose into the arm of every school worker by early April.

Meatpacking plants have been the state’s third-biggest source of coronavirus outbreaks, eclipsed only by long-term care facilities (such as nursing homes) and jails and prisons.

LAWRENCE, Kansas — Raucous chirping tipped me off to the tree full of birds in my front yard last weekend.

I opened the door and peeked out.

House sparrows seemed to be squabbling in our cherry trees. A lone starling sat among them, unperturbed. Somewhere nearby, a tufted titmouse sang an early morning tune.

The long-troubled foster care system in Kansas got hit with yet another complication over the last year.

Pandemic complications came on top of ongoing fixes mandated by a class-action settlement and simmering pressure to find more homes for children in crisis.

WICHITA, Kansas — Rolling electrical blackouts rippled across the Midwest Monday while the region shivered in an arctic blast and suddenly found itself short on electrical power.

The pandemic caused counties across the state to issue varying levels of business shutdown orders meant to slow the spread of a life-threatening virus.

Now businesses that lost their ability to make money during the pandemic want a tax refund for the time they were forced to hang “closed” signs.

Lawmakers heard competing arguments about property tax rebates this week.

Businesses say the closures put them on the brink of shutting down for good. Local governments warn they don’t have the resources to be offering mass tax refunds.

Two bills pending in the Kansas Legislature would slim down penalties for minor drug crimes.

Supporters of the lighter sentences contend the changes would give Kansas more reasonable drug laws and carve away at the state’s prison population.

Opponents told a Kansas House committee this week that the legislation would go too far, discounting that all drug crimes — even relatively small offenses — feed an often-violent illegal drug trade.

KINSLEY, Kansas — In the late 1980s, drought left the wells that supply water to the city of Hays and Russell in western Kansas precariously low. The near-catastrophe sent city leaders on the hunt for more water.

“We were just trying to survive from one year to the next,” former Hays mayor and city councilman Eber Phelps said.

One of the largest private foster care agencies in Kansas has signed a new deal with the state drawn up in the wake of reports of cash shortages and elaborate spending.

The contract amendment requires that Saint Francis Ministries give the Department for Children and Families a new business plan by March 1. The nonprofit will have to report specific information about its income and costs, said DCF secretary Laura Howard.

This story has been updated.

Kansas has launched an online map that shows which hospitals and other locations offer COVID-19 vaccinations.

The tool — called Find My Vaccine — shows dozens of sites across Kansas marked in either orange or blue.

Those colors show you where the latest shipments of vaccine doses went.

David Condos / Kansas News Service

GREAT BEND, Kansas — Joey Bahr walks out to the front of his yard along a blacktop county road. He stops in a ditch and points to an orange-and-black sign that marks a buried fiber-optic cable.

But for Bahr, the cable running beneath his feet is off-limits. It’s owned by a neighboring internet service provider and is merely passing through on its way to a nearby town.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Lawmakers sent voters a state constitutional amendment Thursday that anti-abortion forces say Kansas needs to keep existing laws intact and that their opponents say could ultimately make abortions unattainable in the state.

Sometimes, Becky Angell doesn’t even realize she’s started crying.

She’s been a nurse for seven years, and worked in an intensive care unit in Olathe for the past two. She loves her job and is used to seeing people die.

But the past months of caring for one desperately ill COVID-19 patient after another have left her overwhelmed and in tears at the dinner table and on the drive home from work.

WICHITA, Kansas — Spring break is canceled.

Public universities in Kansas made the call early in the fall as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19. They reasoned that during a pandemic it’s just not a good idea to give students a week to spend in South Beach, or even just travel to see family.

Yet Kansas State University students said they need at least some time off because of another health crisis — the damage to their mental health posed by a semester without a pause. K-State agreed and scheduled a “wellness day” for the spring.

More than a quarter of Kansans have gotten at least their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. And starting March 29, all Kansans ages 16 and up will be eligible for the shots.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Fights between Republican lawmakers and the Democratic governor — over new taxes and her power to shut down businesses in a pandemic — threaten calls on both sides for political unity.

Meanwhile, conservatives in the Legislature push ahead quickly to amend the Kansas Constitution to declare it contains no right to abortion.

This story was updated Wednesday evening after Kansas announced a move to the next phase in its vaccination program.

Hundreds, potentially thousands, of pharmacy workers could inject vaccines into the arms of Kansans in the coming months.

New rules, at least for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, now let an additional class of workers vaccinate more people faster.

Pharmacists could already give shots. But in Kansas, the pharmacy technicians that work alongside them couldn’t.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Gov. Laura Kelly continued to push for vigilance in the fight against the coronavirus and tried to combat skepticism of the vaccine as she laid out her goals on Tuesday for 2021.

The Democratic governor used her State of the State speech to push for Medicaid expansion — a greater longshot than ever — and asked lawmakers for civility as she prepares for a legislative session where she faces an even more conservative Republican majority in the Kansas Statehouse.

Rollin Bannow, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The art of calling and killing coyotes is competitive stuff. 

 

Sometimes people cheat — bagging kills before a contest and then trying to pass them off as fresh at the final check-in. 

For starters, the COVID-19 vaccine doses intended for Ness County in west-central Kansas landed somewhere else.

“That was my first clue we had a problem,” said Carolyn Gabel, the county’s public health administrator.

Then someone from Dodge City called. Those vials bound for Ness City? They hadn’t been kept as cold as needed. They were no good anymore and needed replacing.

COVID-19 poses such dire risks to older people in nursing homes that even vaccines won’t guarantee a quick end to their pandemic isolation.

Tens of thousands of workers and residents at Kansas long-term care facilities will get vaccinated over the next three months. But families aching to visit after such a long separation may not have easy access to their loved ones for several more months at least.

“We will not be clicking our fingers and returning to normal,” said William Hanage, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard University. “There is not a silver bullet.”

LAWRENCE, Kansas — In north Lawrence, the city set up 20 white-and-gray tents in a park to house people who are homeless.

It’s not health care, or COVID-19 tests, but federal coronavirus tax dollars are paying for the camp.

“If we put our homeless population into the shelter, there’s a higher chance that they’ll get the virus and then they’ll spread it across the community,” Douglas County Commissioner Patrick Kelly said.

Leoti Masterson hasn’t seen her son, Jeff, since March. She used to visit him at the Winfield Correctional Facility once a week to play cards, reminisce and pray together, sometimes for hours at a time.

But when the pandemic started, Kansas prisons stopped allowing visitors as a coronavirus precaution. Now, Masterson makes do with daily phone calls no longer than 20 minutes.

“He’s my closest family member,” Masterson said. “So, yeah, this is hard.”

WICHITA, Kansas — The way kids in Kansas learn to read is in for a major rewrite.

Teachers will soon ditch their time-worn old memorize-and-context-clues methods. In their place, they’ll work with state teacher colleges on new styles meant to accommodate dyslexic students and other children who struggle with books. For instance, they’ll train kids to break down words and to methodically drill through English’s tricky rules.

WICHITA, Kansas — The first of potentially several COVID-19 vaccines could get emergency approval by the end of the week.

But that major milestone is just the beginning of the work for local and state health departments in Kansas that will have to get the pandemic-stalling shots to people — and decide who gets it first, when and how.

Republican legislative leaders will likely keep their sometimes combative relationship with Democratic Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly.

Conservative Republicans maintained their grip on top jobs in the Kansas House and Senate in leadership elections on Tuesday.

That paves the way for lawmakers to restrict the governor’s powers to respond to the pandemic and continued challenges for some top Democratic priorities, like Medicaid expansion.

In the House, Republican Speaker Ron Ryckman won an unprecedented third term.

EUDORA, Kansas — In 1979, a young boy fell asleep on his father’s chest in their Scott City, Kansas, home. His mother snapped a photo.

A week ago, that father died of COVID-19 in the local nursing home. Marvin Farr’s son, Courtney Farr, penned an obituary.

If you’re buying health insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchange in Kansas, for 2021 you’ll have more options than ever — including a big player that sat out the Obamacare market the past few years.

The 2020 market already brought a dramatic increase in options. That trend will continue. A half dozen insurers are now vying for customers.

The Kansas National Guard conducted 28,000 COVID-19 tests and distributed almost 40,000 cases of protective masks, gloves and gowns. Guardsmen have also packaged a staggering 8 million meals. But even as hospitals fill with COVID-19 patients and deaths mount, the guard's pandemic mission is going the other direction.

Col. Michael Venerdi, director of Joint Staff for the Kansas National Guard, says the pandemic mission has stretched throughout most of the year.

Dozens of Kansas nursing homes still wait three days to a week for overwhelmed labs to tell them if their residents have COVID-19.

Most of Wichita attorney Trent Wetta’s clients fall between the ages of 14 and 17, but they can be as young as 10. They typically face misdemeanor charges, such as possession of marijuana or theft, or minor felony charges, like burglary.

It can prove tricky guiding a child through a criminal justice system made by adults with law degrees.

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