Driving out to Hays on Saturday morning, Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran was on a conference call with 30 county health department administrators from around the state, listening to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
“The lack of access to tests is certainly a topic of conversation,” Moran said. “There are not enough tests, there are not enough test kits so that people can be tested.”
Moran was a featured speaker mid-day Saturday on the Fort Hays State University campus at the Lions Clubs of Western Kansas District 17-K Convention.
Speaking after his talk, Moran said one testing challenge he heard about Friday came from a provider at a Kansas community health clinic.
“They said they requested four test kits and they received two, and then ultimately they got their four,” he said. “So they got what they needed, but it took two steps to get it.”
Officially, as of Saturday afternoon there were eight cases of COVID-19 in Kansas, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. They’ve been reported in the counties of Johnson, Wyandotte, Butler and Franklin.
That can be misleading, however, Moran indicated.
“We would not know how many cases,” he said. “You don’t know if there’s a case until the test comes back positive, and the number of tests that are available are limited.”
It’s likely the official number is wrong, he suggested, although the FDA plans to fast-track test kit manufacturing by private suppliers.
“Common sense tells me that once the test is available and more people are tested, we’re going to find that more people have the virus,” he said, speaking outside the Black and Gold Room, where he addressed the Lions’ convention earlier.
Moran said he’s seeking more information about Kansans’ access to kits, how kits are allocated to the various states and the state’s ranking in priority for testing, since Kansas has so few known cases.
“My guess is that the places where the cases are prevalent, Washington state for example, the need for those tests is greater than it is elsewhere,” he said.
Transportation is emerging as a problem in western Kansas.
“I was talking to one of the county health administrators from northwest Kansas, and this is the second time this week that they’ve had to drive the test — it’s a three-person department — and one of the nurses is having to drive the test to Topeka,” Moran said.
The postal service, UPS and FedEx aren’t the solution, he indicated.
“If you don’t get the test to the Post Office by 11 o’clock in the morning, or whatever, then you’ve missed the day, and if it happens to be a Friday, then it’s a long weekend,” said Moran.
The Division of Emergency Management in the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department will now make sure tests get transported to Topeka.
“My assumption is they will have others who are not in the county health department, where they are needed, drive those tests,” Moran said.
In a reference to “flattening the curve” of people infected, Moran urged the Lions to follow social-distancing and hand-washing guidelines so cases don’t spike and overwhelm hospitals and medical personnel.
“Kansas could get to the point where there are insufficient resources, beds, health care providers, if we see an immediate increase and everyone is presenting themselves at the same time,” he said. “So the longer we can keep the virus from spreading, the fewer the number of people that are determined to have the virus, and that helps our hospitals take care of the people that do.”
About 163 Lions signed up for the all-day convention, said convention chairman Les Herrman, of Hays. The district covers all of western Kansas, from the Colorado border to Salina. About 125 attended, Herrman said. Lions International encouraged the district to go ahead with the convention.
“We talked about it three days ago, but it was too late to call it off,” Herrman said. “We had ordered the food and stuff. We just told people if you feel like you shouldn’t attend, don’t attend.”
Moran said he joined the Lions Club 42 years ago in 1977 while living in Hill City.
“It was an important part of my life,” he said. “I want to pay tribute to all of you for your involvement in your community and Lions International.”
Moran said he still advocates as a lawmaker for legislation that helps the Lions and other service organizations.
“Lions Club came to me somewhat naturally,” Moran noted, recalling that as a kid growing up in Plainville he attended the annual fourth-grade Lions Club banquet at the First United Methodist Church, with a magician as the program. Lions Club also was the organizing sponsor for Plainville’s Boy Scout Troop 109, which he joined.
While Topeka and Washington, D.C., have a role in changing the world, Moran said, Lions members make a difference in their communities.
“I believe in my heart we change the world one person at a time,” Moran said. “And it happens in communities across Kansas and across the country every day. And if we wait for elected officials to make a difference, we’ll miss the chance to really make a difference in changing the world.”