Gov. Laura Kelly says recovery is community effort; phased reopening depends on science and data; strict rules planned for hair salons; state braces for second wave in fall; flags to be lowered for fallen officer, and all first responders in future; more than 600 inmates at Lansing prison have tested positive
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TOPEKA — Some Kansas businesses are treating the threat of the coronavirus more seriously than others.
Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, has noticed.
"I've walked into a store, I had a mask on, and I didn't like the way it was being managed, so I turned around and walked back out," Norman said.
Gov. Laura Kelly lifted restrictions this week to allow some businesses to resume operations under strict conditions for avoiding rapid transmission of a deadly disease.
Kelly and Norman say compliance with health safety recommendations will dictate how long it takes before more restrictions can be eased. The governor’s plan for reopening the state allows for new phases of social and business activity every couple of weeks, but only if certain benchmarks are met.
That means businesses and residents need to take the coronavirus seriously by limiting travel, avoiding crowded stores and parks, wearing masks when around other people, washing hands frequently, and maintaining 6 feet of distance from each other.
Recovery from the pandemic, Kelly said, is "a community effort."
"We'll continue to re-evaluate Kansas' disease spread, testing rates, hospitalizations, personal protection equipment availability and other factors before moving from one phase to the next," Kelly said. "Science and data will dictate how quickly or how slowly the reopening unfolds."
Norman cautioned against focusing on his department’s day-to-day tracking of numbers because lags in data entry from state and county health officials make the daily counts unreliable. Sometimes, he said, local officials will wait a couple of days before turning in new figures.
Norman said he instead looks at a 14-day period, which corresponds to the incubation period of the virus, to analyze overall trend lines.
KDHE’s latest report puts the total deaths related to COVID-19 in Kansas at 147, but other health officials in Kansas report 164 deaths. More than 6,100 are believed to have the virus, based on positive tests and probable cases. KDHE began including probable cases in its totals on Thursday.
Further complicating the analysis: The state expects to record more cases in the coming weeks because of expanded testing capacity. Previously, KDHE only tested likely COVID-19 patients who required hospitalization. Now, anybody with two or more symptoms will be tested.
Norman said the ever-expanding list of symptoms include fever, chills, shakes, muscle pains, malaise, headache, sore throat, difficult breathing, loss of smell or taste, and mild abdominal pain.
Before stylists can untangle, dye, treat and trim the hair of clients grown shaggy during a two-month lockdown, they will need to ramp up already strict industry standards for cleanliness.
Kelly and Norman provided some clues to the restrictions that will be in place when hair salons are allowed to reopen, possibly as soon as May 18.
Hair service will be allowed by appointment only — no walk-ins. Clients will have to wait in their cars until it is their turn. These precautions will require signage.
There will be masks. Stylists will need to clean equipment, wipe down chairs and wash their hands between serving clients.
Kelly said she discussed the measures in a long conference call with "the barber and cosmetology world." The concern is that people will be at serious risk of infection because social distancing isn’t an option.
"This is going to require them really to take it up a notch and be very conscientious," Kelly said.
Second wave won’t rock boat
As state officials prepare for the potential of lifting restrictions on mass gatherings by mid-June, they also are preparing for the likelihood of the virus returning in full force in the fall.
Kelly said the plan is to reverse through phases of restrictions, starting as early as September, if it looks like a second wave is coming. The state will be better prepared to handle the crisis, she said, because of the lessons learned this spring.
Schools have already put together a continuous learning program, for instance, which gives them freedom to get out of building for a while if needed. And medical workers will have a stockpile of necessary equipment by then, Kelly said.
"A lot of what we’re learning right now will put us in much better stead," Kelly said. "We’ll be much better prepared if a second wave hits us."
Kelly ordered flags in Kansas to fly at half-staff in honor of Overland Park police officer Mike Mosher, who was killed Sunday in the line of duty.
She also issued a new executive order to add first responders to the list of individuals whose deaths will be recognized with the lowering of flags. The order covers law enforcement, firefighters and emergency response workers.
Mosher was a decorated 14-year veteran of the Overland Park Police Department. He died in a shootout with a hit-and-run suspect.
"When our officers sign up to protect and serve our communities, they are putting their lives on the line for us," Kelly said. "The sacrifices he and his family have made will certainly not be forgotten. Officer Mosher was an outstanding officer, and I offer my sincere condolences to his family during this difficult time."
Kelly ordered flags to be lowered on the day of Mosher’s memorial service, which hasn’t been determined yet.
Norman said KDHE employees on Tuesday finished taking samples from every inmate at Lansing Correctional Facility, where hundreds are sick and three have died from the virus.
Complete test results were expected by the end of the week. Already, 609 of the 1,700 inmates have produced positive tests. Of those who have tested positive, 520 weren’t showing symptoms.
An additional 88 staff members have tested positive.
It isn’t clear why the Lansing facility has suffered such an outbreak when no other state-run prison has had more than two inmates test positive. Norman said he suspects there were a number of cases among younger inmates in Lansing who passed the virus on before it was detected.
"It got a toehold," he said, "and then it goes pretty quickly."
Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab announced Thursday he was distributing $2.6 million in federal aid to county election officers.
Schwab also is preparing to provide an additional $1 million worth of personal protective equipment for use at polling stations.
The funds are provided for response to the pandemic. Schwab's office has asked county clerks to send applications for mail-in ballots to all registered voters. Costs for postage and the printing of mail-in ballots are expected to strain local budgets.
"We must strike a balance in maintaining the security of elections while protecting the health and welfare of Kansas voters and election workers," Schwab said.