Kansas News Service

FREDONIA, Kansas — Nick Baldetti resigned as director of the Reno County Health Department in July.

He left to head an effort to establish a school of health at McPherson College. It was a good opportunity, Baldetti said, but he likely would have stayed to see the department through the pandemic if not for the 80-hour work weeks, the hostile political environment and the threats to his family.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Monday picked an experienced appeals court judge, who started her career in retail sales, to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court.

WICHITA, Kansas — Between concerns about schools staying open and the challenges of learning remotely, teachers and students are haunted by another question that goes beyond 2020: Will snow days disappear forever?

At least 73 Kansas counties now require masks. The true number could be higher as the dust settles on a midnight deadline for each county to decide.

That’s a sharp increase since the summer, when all but 25 of the state’s 105 counties rejected Gov. Laura Kelly’s statewide mask rules.

WICHITA — Coronavirus cases are at record levels. Just in time to pretty much ruin Thanksgiving.

In Kansas, those cases have hospitals worried about having enough space or staff. That’s prompted local, state and federal officials to urge people to just stay home.

We spoke with three Kansans about their decisions to cancel trips to see family — and the loss that represents.

Black and Native American babies in Kansas die at almost twice the rate as white infants in their first year of life.

Out of every 1,000 live births, 11.8 Black and 10.4 Native American babies die before their first birthdays in Kansas. Meanwhile, only 5.6 out of every 1,000 white babies die in that period.

Hospitals in Colorado and Nebraska are calling Kansas in desperate search of beds for coronavirus patients. But Kansas hospitals are asking them for the same.

November has brought on the strongest surge yet of the coronavirus across the region — and that’s before Thanksgiving gathers families together.

“The entire Midwest is on fire,” said Steven Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System.

WICHITA, Kansas — Charles Bell usually passes on voting. He’s a Democrat in a Republican state and said, “If I vote, it’s not going to count.”

But after seeing Kansans elect a Democratic governor in 2018, he thought maybe the state was changing. And so this year, for only the second time in his 63 years, he voted, hoping Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden or U.S. Senate candidate Barbara Bollier might be elected.

Hospital doctors in the Kansas City area have been urgently warning residents that COVID-19 is reaching dangerous and unprecedented new levels, potentially overwhelming their facilities.

Intensive care units, which have remained plentiful through most of the pandemic, are increasingly in short supply, with less than one in five currently available in the Kansas City region.

KU Hospital infectious disease specialist Dr. Dana Hawkinson said on Monday that the hospital’s capacity to treat patients is less than bed counts suggest.

This year, nurses in southeast Kansas are taking a NASCAR-style approach in the race against the flu.

Imagine a pit crew, said Lori Rexwinkle, head of nursing at a community health center that serves 10 counties. Except instead of speed-swapping tires, this team vaccinates passengers. Got a van full of kids? Just pull it on up.

“We had several different nurses going out to the vehicle at the same time,” Rexwinkle said. “Parents appreciated that.”

LAWRENCE, Kansas — This week’s election set the stage for partisan fights in the Kansas Statehouse over things like redistricting, abortion, Medicaid expansion and pandemic-related aid.

Democrats had hoped to crack the Republican supermajority in both chambers — thus taking away the GOP’s power to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s vetoes — but that didn’t happen.

Kansas community colleges should be having a good year.

No crowded, germy dorms. Most of their students don’t need to travel. Plus, community colleges are cheaper and normally thrive in a bad economy.

Instead, they actually lost students. Enrollment fell more than 14% this fall. That’s causing the experts who track the industry to wonder about past assumptions.

OVERLAND PARK, Kansas — Kansas Republican U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall is moving up to the U.S. Senate after surviving a challenge from Democrat Barbara Bollier in Tuesday’s election.

The 60-year-old two-term congressman from Great Bend will succeed Republican Pat Roberts, who is retiring after nearly 40 years in Congress. Marshall’s win also keeps intact Republicans’ winning streak in Kansas U.S. Senate races, a streak that dates back to 1938.

Democrats and Republicans in Kansas will keep their seats in the U.S. House, as Tuesday’s election favored the incumbents and the Republican candidate in the 2nd Congressional District.

Nationally, the House looks to be staying in Democrats’ hands, with Sharice Davids playing a role in that in the 3rd District.

But young GOP rising star Jake LaTurner defeated Topeka’s mayor to replace embattled Congressman Steve Watkins in the 2nd District that covers a vast stretch of eastern Kansas.

STILWELL, Kansas — After Doug Reed put his elderly father’s Johnson County home up for sale, the mailbox started to fill up with letters from the Kansas Department of Labor, sometimes 25 or 30 at a time.

“We had two or three big batches of them, and they’ve been dribbling in ever since,” Reed said.

Within a couple weeks, about 130 letters had arrived, all bearing his father’s street address but addressed to different names.

WICHITA, Kansas — The state’s largest utility wants to charge customers with solar panels about $25 a month, even if their homes pull almost no electricity off the grid.

If courts and regulators reject that idea, power-provider Evergy’s backup proposal would charge all customers — not just those harvesting power on their roofs — a minimum of $35 a month just for plugging into its system.

WICHITA, Kansas — Amid a surge of coronavirus cases across rural Kansas, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly provided details on her new statewide testing plan Wednesday, adding 400,000 more by the end of the year.

That's nearly double the amount of tests available now, with the goal of reaching a total of 1 million tests. The extra capacity is expected to go to schools and high-risk populations, like those living and working at nursing homes.

LENEXA, Kansas — For months, the people at a Johnson County lab found themselves consumed, running an endless parade of tests on human spit.

The feds hadn’t yet OK’d a single saliva test for COVID-19, but the scientists at Clinical Reference Laboratory were sure they could design something that worked.

Kansans remain among the most vulnerable in the country to surprise medical bills — charges from outside an insurance network that the consumer only discovers after treatment.

A new research brief from the Kansas Health Institute points to studies suggesting the charges are common in Kansas. It’s part of a shrinking minority of states yet to pass laws reining in the practice.

EL DORADO, Kansas — The culture war issues that are polarizing national politics are also front and center in Kansas’ U.S. Senate contest: race, guns, abortion, climate change.

Supporters of Republican candidate Roger Marshall fear a wave of Democratic victories will trigger radical changes in the nation’s economy and culture; that capitalism will give way to socialism, undocumented immigrants will stream across the U.S.-Mexico border and individual liberties will be threatened.

TOPEKA — Health care workers and long-term care residents will be among those who will get the coronavirus vaccine first in Kansas, a draft plan shows.

Kansas’ 45-page plan was filed in the past week with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other groups that will be prioritized for the initial rounds of vaccinations include people with underlying medical conditions, people 65 and older and essential workers.

The scheduled execution of Lisa Montgomery, who was convicted in 2008 of killing a pregnant woman and cutting the baby from her womb, will mark the third time a Kansan has been put to death this year since the resumption of federal executions in July.

LAWRENCE, Kansas — Kansas could see record-breaking turnout in the Nov. 3 general election, even during a pandemic.

It’s too late to register to vote for this election, but you have until Oct. 27 to request an advance ballot.

WICHITA, Kansas — Kansas’ teacher shortage finally shows signs of shrinking.

But districts still can’t find enough educators to keep schools running under coronavirus safety demands.

WICHITA, Kansas — The blow the coronavirus dealt to the Kansas economy left tens of thousands of people in the state struggling to pay their utility bills.

That puts them at risk of losing electricity or natural gas — and raises the prospect that better-off Kansans weathering price hikes to make up the difference.

Washington, D.C., or Topeka: No matter the seat of power, you deserve to know who is on the ballot and what their views are.

The time has come to cast a ballot — but for whom? The Kansas News Service can help you make your decision with this rundown of the major races, links to our stories and handy comparisons of the congressional candidates.

U.S. Senate: Doctor vs. Doctor

Democrat Barbara Bollier is a state senator (who left the Republican Party in 2018) from the ritzy Kansas City suburb of Mission Hills. She's also a retired anesthesiologist.

Two retired doctors are vying for Kansas’ open U.S. Senate seat, but that’s where the similarities end.

TOPEKA, Kansas — The two doctors running for the U.S. Senate in Kansas are offering very different prescriptions for increasing access to affordable health care during the coronavirus pandemic.

Perhaps two in every 50 Kansans have antibodies swimming in their bloodstream that show they’ve had COVID-19.

That relatively low number — based on the assumption that blood donors reflect the broader population — suggests a gloomy reality. Kansas is still in the early days of this pandemic and it's looking at a future likely to bring many more cases than it has so far seen.

GREAT BEND, Kansas — Emerging infectious diseases like the coronavirus don’t just threaten humans. They’re also a major concern for the livestock industry and the U.S. food supply, with billions, if not trillions, of dollars at stake.

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