Kansas News Service

When Dr. Ashley Olson’s mother-in-law sent her a link to a Facebook page called RVs 4 MDs, Olson didn’t know what to think. Did she really need an RV to quarantine in?

Olson, a third-year chief resident in emergency medicine at Truman Medical Centers, has seen her share of COVID-19 cases lately.

She and her husband live in Parkville. They'd already come up with a routine for what she should do immediately after coming home from her shifts. She felt good about it.

WICHITA, Kansas — Thousands of Reno County voters usually cast their ballots at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, a central location with a high capacity.

Deputy Election Officer Jenna Fager said it’ll look different for this year’s August primary and November general election to avoid spreading the coronavirus. How different, though, she’s not sure.

“We’d have to consult emergency management and our health department and just, kind of, do the best we can,” she said.

Corinne Boyer / Kansas News Service

DODGE CITY, Kansas — In the days leading up to President Donald Trump’s mandate that all meatpacking plants stay open, workers in western Kansas’ meatpacking triangle were worried that precautions now being taken aren’t enough to slow the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

“We're right next to each other in the locker rooms,” Brandon Vasquez said about the possibility of social distancing at the National Beef plant in Dodge City, where he’s worked for about a year. “The lunch line ... they put stuff on the floor where we should stay six feet apart. But a lot of people are not listening and there's nobody enforcing (social distancing) in there.”

Corinne Boyer/Servicio de Noticias de Kansas (Kansas News Service)

DODGE CITY, Kansas — Antes del mandato de presidente Donald Trump que las plantas de envasado de carne deberían permanecer abiertas, los trabajadores ya estaban preocupados porque las precauciones actuales no son suficientes para detener la propagación de COVID-19 coronavirus. Estos serían los trabajadores en el triángulo de plantas empacadoras de carne del oeste de Kansas.

TOPEKA, Kansas — With the number of new coronavirus cases still rising steadily and the state’s economy stuck in reverse, Gov. Laura Kelly announced her plans for a phased-in reopening.

The governor’s plan — essentially it lets retailers, restaurants and churches ease into a new normal — comes despite Kansas lagging other states in testing for COVID-19 and growing outbreaks clustered near meatpacking plants.

WICHITA, Kansas — The coronavirus shutdown killed oil prices. That could be a killer for local governments in large swaths of Kansas, places long addicted to the tax money that’s been lost as companies stop pumping crude from the ground.

In some parts of Kansas, counties depend on revenue tied to oil production to cover as much as a fourth of the local property taxes.

With no rebound in prices in a world suddenly awash in a glut of oil, those counties find themselves scrambling to raise taxes elsewhere, slash their budgets, or both.

TOPEKA, Kansas — The Kansas law requiring people to prove they are U.S. citizens before registering to vote is unconstitutional, a federal court has ruled.

The decision handed down Wednesday by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals panel means that no proof of citizenship is needed ahead of this year’s August primary and November general elections.

After six weeks of asking Kansans to stay at home, Gov. Laura Kelly is expected to announce Thursday that the state will start to reopen for businesses and some public gatherings on May 4.

Even if people can travel at-will and previously non-essential retailers can open their doors, the governor likely will leave some restrictions in place and maybe enact new rules.

WICHITA, Kansas — Doctors diagnosed Courtney Buchmann’s breast cancer on March 6, three days before the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Kansas.

Buchmann worried, as hospitals braced for an overflow of coronavirus patients, whether the potentially life-saving surgery she suddenly needed would be deemed elective.

WICHITA, Kansas — Gov. Laura Kelly filed a joint motion this weekend with two churches suing her over stay-at-home orders, signaling her first steps to reopen the Kansas economy and tamp down the fight over religious freedom.

The small crew of health care workers at Guadalupe Clinic in Wichita — aided by dozens more who volunteer there — sees nearly 2,000 people a year.

Every one of them is uninsured, and all visits are free.

Guadalupe can’t yet check patients for COVID-19. But emergency federal legislation might help the nonprofit roll out that service to the low-income neighborhoods it serves.

BETHANY WOOD / FOR THE KANSAS NEWS SERVICE

Notice actualizado: Lee Norman, el secretario de salud de Kansas, dijo viernes que Kansas ahora tiene 250 casos del coronavirus COVID-19 entre los trabajadores en las seis plantas de envasado de carne del estado. El gobierno federal envió suministros para dar exámenes a miles de personas del parte suroeste de Kansas. Además, el Centro para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC) está enviando personas a la región. 

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — Dos condados del oeste de Kansas que tienen plantas de envasado de carne también tienen algunos de los casos más de Coronavirus COVID-19 en el estado. Oficiales de la planta Tyson cerca de Garden City dijeron esta semana que tienen algunos casos entre sus trabajadores. 

Bethany Wood / For the Kansas News Service

Update: Kansas Health Secretary Lee Norman said on Friday that Kansas has now identified 250 cases of COVID-19 among workers at the state's six meatpacking plants. The federal government has sent supplies to test thousands of people in southwest Kansas. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sending staff to the region.

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — Two western Kansas counties that are home to meatpacking plants have some of the highest counts of the coronavirus in the state. It’s a distinction that comes as the Tyson plant near Garden City said this week it has several cases among its workers.

None of the meatpacking plants, which make up about 25% of the national beef supply according to a Kansas State professor’s estimate, has shared a specific count of workers with a COVID-19 diagnosis. And the state health department leaves it up to county health departments to decide whether to provide the public with detailed case information.

For weeks, hospital workers in the Kansas City area have been warning that the lack of adequate personal protective equipment was putting them at risk when treating COVID-19 patients.

This week, one of those workers, Celia Yap Banago, a registered nurse who had worked at Research Medical Center for more than 40 years, died after caring for a COVID-19 patient, according to the National Nurses United union.

“It’s horrible to find out that she didn’t make it,” says Charlene Carter, a registered nurse who worked at Research with Banago for seven years.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Protesters angry about the stay-at-home order in Kansas and the tens of thousands of people it’s tossed from work rallied at the state Capitol Thursday.

They clogged traffic on the four blocks that ring the Statehouse for more than an hour, honking on horns, calling out slogans on bullhorns and pressing Gov. Laura Kelly to reopen businesses in the state.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Across the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic is triggering state budget crises. Kansas is no exception, with tax collections expected to plummet by $1.3 billion between now and June 2021.

“This is more than just a little bump in the road,” said Gov. Laura Kelly, who over the next 15 months (or longer) will have to hash out with the Republican-led Legislature how to stay in the black. That’s because the Kansas Constitution prohibits deficit spending.

Here are the five things you need to know about Kansas’ budget situation.

LAWRENCE, Kansas — The more Kansas tests people for the coronavirus, the clearer it becomes that black Kansans are being disproportionately affected — a sobering trend that is true in communities across the U.S.

Black Kansans are three times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than white people, and more than seven times more likely to die from the virus. Latinos are also about three times as likely to test positive for COVID-19.

The data mirrors trends seen in across U.S. cities like New York, Chicago and Detroit, as well as other states.

CORINNE BOYER / KANSAS NEWS SERVICE

UPDATE: Wednesday, April 22 5:48 p.m.

Local officials on Wednesday confirmed multiple cases of COVID-19 at a meatpacking plant in Finney County. There is also now evidence of community spread. 

Lawrence, KANSAS — The looming expiration date on Kansas’ statewide stay-at-home order worries Mary and Gary House of southeast Kansas.

Though they’re staying in as much as possible now, once life returns to normal that will change. Gary, age 79, is an attorney who defends criminal cases in Chautauqua, Montgomery and Elk counties.

He thinks of the exposure to the novel coronavirus he could face in a single jury selection.

“They may bring in 70 or 80 prospective jurors to question,” he said. “So, you’re just around a lot of people.”

OVERLAND PARK, Kansas — Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids took her spot in Congress from an incumbent Republican in 2018. This year, Republicans think they can take back the seat that represents Johnson, Wyandotte counties and a slice of Miami County.

CORINNE BOYER / KANSAS NEWS SERVICE

GARDEN CITY, Kansas -- Western Kansas is seeing a spike in cases of the new coronavirus. But Finney County -- where Garden City is -- has upped its ability to test people.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment provided more testing supplies for the county’s health department, allowing it to do up to 50 per day.

Corinne Boyer / Kansas News Service

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — The continuing spread of COVID-19 among workers who slaughter livestock and package meat poses a growing threat to keeping the industry’s plants in operation.

Already, the coronavirus temporarily shut down a pork-processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and a beefpacking facility in Greeley, Colorado

Now in the cattle slaughterhouses of southwest Kansas, both National Beef Packing Co. and Cargill Inc. have confirmed cases of the coronavirus among workers at their plants in Dodge City and Liberal. 

Willie Ricken has lived in the same house in Garden Plain, Kansas, outside of Wichita, for more than 60 years. And every year on his birthday, his family likes to come together and make a big fuss about it.

“We’re all just very aware that our time with him is dwindling," says his granddaughter Hallie Sigwing, a wedding photographer in Kansas City. "So, especially since his 90th birthday, we’ve definitely gone out of our way to make sure that there was a big celebration.”

Two Kansas churches temporarily don’t have to abide by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s limit of 10 or fewer attendees, a federal judge ruled Saturday.

The judge sided with the First Baptist Church in Dodge City and Calvary Baptist Church in Junction City, which had argued in a lawsuit that Kelly’s executive order was an unconstitutional limit on the right to exercise religious freedom and went against the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act.

WICHITA, Kansas — Easter services at Heritage Baptist Church in Lawrence felt like a typical Sunday meeting. Several dozen congregants sang hymns and heard messages about Jesus Christ and the importance of going to church.

Some people sat in every other row and tried to maintain separation in the pews. A few wore masks.

“I believe very strongly that the Bible commands us to have church,” said the Rev. Scott Hanks, one of only a handful of ministers who held services in defiance of a statewide order, backed by the state Supreme Court, that limited even religious gatherings to 10 or fewer people. 

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas will remain under a statewide stay-at-home order for at least two more weeks to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Gov. Laura Kelly said in a briefing Wednesday that she’s extending her executive order that all but shut down a wide range of businesses across the state to May 3.

But her chief counsel later said it might not be that simple. The order will actually end May 1. That's when her state of emergency declaration is scheduled to expire.

WICHITA, Kansas — Flatten the curve: A phrase that didn’t mean anything two months ago is now the driving factor behind social distancing, stay-at-home orders and limiting the number of people who can gather in one place.

The idea is to make sure hospitals aren’t overrun with severe COVID-19 cases, as well as help hospitals conserve limited resources such as personal protective equipment.

But in Kansas, there isn’t publicly available data on whether a hospital is close to filling up. And few are willing to share that information.

Corinne Boyer / Kansas News Service

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — The Finney County Emergency Medical Service department, with its staff of 23, is conserving its N95 masks and only using them when a patient is positive for COVID-19. Like large hospitals, U.S. cities and entire European countries, rural EMS workers aren’t shielded from the medical supply shortage. 

And that’s just one of the challenges rural EMS agencies across Kansas stare down as COVID-19 is being confirmed in their communities. They’re stretched thin, covering hundreds of miles, and seeing the ripple effects from the pandemic that’s shut down communities — something emergency plans hadn’t accounted for. 

LAWRENCE, Kansas — Tobias Wood is thinking twice about working at a polling place in Shawnee County this year. He’s done it since 2018, but now he’s practicing social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

He knows that might be difficult during elections, when he needs to handle people’s IDs and have voters sign in on a tablet.

LAWRENCE, Kansas — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday calling for the Kansas Supreme Court to order the release of state prisoners whose lives it contends stand at special risk from the coronavirus.

The lawsuit asks the court to release people incarcerated for minor crimes, within 18 months of release, or who have medical conditions that would make them especially vulnerable to the virus.

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