Kansas businesses held back by COVID-19 start the process of reopening to in-store customers in wake of the pandemic; Gov. Laura Kelly, President Donald Trump to meet Wednesday at White House; KDHE explains why thousands of Kansans in three meatpacking plant counties test positive, but few die; fourth inmate dies at Lansing prison

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TOPEKA — Heather Graves is excited to get to do what she loves, with people she loves, for people she loves.

The owner of ONYX hair salon in Topeka opened for appointment-only business Monday as the state entered Phase 1.5 of Gov. Laura Kelly's plan for easing restrictions on businesses put in place because of the global pandemic.

Graves has booked appointments to fill 13 hours every day, Monday through Saturday. The workload is a blessing for someone who hasn't had an income in seven weeks and views her clients as family.

"It's really hard to miss milestones with them or to not get to see them and check in," Graves said. "It's just kind of been a normal part of my life for so long, so I'm excited to catch up with them."

Following regulations put in place by the governor, Shawnee County health officer and Kansas Board of Cosmetology, ONYX is taking "every precaution possible."

Graves and her nine employees, including the receptionist, are certified in COVID-19 sanitation. They have moved stations farther apart, eliminated the lobby, and implemented strict rules for wearing masks and gloves.

Clients wait outside for staff to open the door. Contactless payment is handled through apps or changeless cash.

"They just have to sit in a chair and get their hair done and go on their way," Graves said.

Graves said the addition of a full-time receptionist to help with cleaning, along with the cost of protection equipment and the slower pace of business, will be a financial strain. Still, she said, it feels good to be back at work.

And she is sympathetic to others whose lives were upended by the pandemic. If it weren't for the virus, Graves and her stylists would have been busy helping clients prepare for proms, graduations and weddings.

"My heart goes out to them for all of those challenges," Graves said. "So many people have had to have their milestones in a different and unique way. I'm really proud of everybody, of how inventive people are getting to still find ways to celebrate, connect and be together.

"I think that has shown us that we are really connected and we do need each other."

And a manicure

Leeca Goode, a manicurist from Louisburg, still has a few weeks to go before she can return to work.

Goode provides nail care for clients at a retirement home in Overland Park. The facility will remain closed until June, at least, when the state enters Phase 3 of the governor's reopening plan.

"It's a financial burden," Goode said. "I have yet to see any unemployment."

The single mom is waiting for the Kansas Department of Labor to distribute federal aid for private contractors like her.

However, Goode understands the need to take the threat of COVID-19 seriously. Her daughter is type 1 diabetic, and her clients are all over 70 years old. She was satisfied with the state government's response to the pandemic and phased-in approach for reopening.

"Right now," Goode said, "they're probably doing exactly what they should."

A microbrewery

Black Stag Brewery co-owner John Hampton welcomed sit-down dining customers Monday at outset of the new phase of Kelly’s strategy for drawing the economy out of a coronavirus funk.

There was plenty of seating at the 400-person capacity restaurant in downtown Lawrence, even with some tables blocked off to abide by social distancing rules established by the state. Some folks were sitting alone at the bar, while others took advantage of an outdoor plaza to eat and drink.

"I’m happy to start the process," Hampton said. "From my perspective, at Black Stag, we can do it and do it safely."

He said the mid-March shutdown ordered by the governor cut into events that draw big crowds to the microbrewery, including St. Patrick’s Day, NCAA Tournament basketball and graduation at the University of Kansas.

The transition from exclusive carryout and delivery services back to the in-restaurant experience necessitates calling back employees who qualified for unemployment benefits, he said. Some, however, have mixed feelings because of personal economics. He said the $600 per week supplemental federal jobless benefit may convince some people to stay off the job a bit longer.

Kelly, Trump meeting

Kelly plans to meet President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday to discuss Kansas’ phased reopening of the economy, protection of the nation’s food supply chain and shielding workers from harm during the pandemic.

The Kansas governor is championing the idea of a new federal stimulus bill providing hundreds of millions of dollars to replenish budgets of cities, counties and states suffering sharp revenue reductions as the economy cratered and more than 89,000 Americans succumbed to the virus.

It is incumbent on Congress and the White House to act, Kelly said.

"They need to do something ... that provides direct relief to the state and local units of government to be able to fill those revenue gaps because they are absolutely huge," the governor said.

Kansas on Monday reported 8,300 positive tests and 173 deaths from COVID-19 since mid-March.

Kelly said she looked forward to a conversation about how a Midwest governor and the president could partner on the recovery.

"Our continued emphasis is on protecting Kansans' health and well-being, and helping the state recover from a public health crisis that has exacted a painful financial toll on many," Kelly said. "The economic damage will be long lasting and will require collaboration at every level."

Kelly has faced Republican criticism in Kansas for executive actions taken to moderate spread of COVID-19. She has been denounced for closing school buildings, issuing a stay-at-home order that put thousands out of work, limiting church attendance in what was viewed as an unconstitutional overreach and for computer issues inhibiting timely payment of unemployment claims.

She said the meeting with Trump would have an agrarian feel because of financial struggles among Kansas’ crop and livestock producers and the need to protect health and safety of Kansans working in packing plants providing one-fourth of the nation’s beef.

The president signed an order requiring the U.S. meat processing plants to remain in operation to avoid a shortage in grocery stores.

"I look forward to the discussion with President Trump on ways we can continue to work with the federal government on our response and recovery efforts," Kelly said.


Three companies — National Beef, Cargill and Tyson — operate large meat processing facilities in southwest Kansas. So far, about 1,800 employees at nine meatpacking facilities statewide have tested positive. Four people affiliated with those facilities have died.

Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said outbreaks tied to packing plants have a far lower fatality rate than outbreaks centered in nursing homes.

"The people in the meatpacking plants are younger and healthier," Norman said. "People that have concomitant medical conditions are much more likely to succumb to the illness."

He said the age differential between residents of nursing homes and employees at processing plants was significant. Individuals with an underlying cardiac, respiratory or renal condition are more likely to have severe complications or die of the illness, he said.

A quick comparison, based on tallies compiled by the Reno County Health Department: Key meatpacking plant counties of Ford, Finney and Seward report 3,300 COVID-19 cases and 14 deaths. Counties of Johnson, Sedgwick and Wyandotte report 2,300 cases and 146 deaths.

Ford County hosts National Beef and Cargill facilities, and 1,299 residents of the county have tested positive. No other county in Kansas — not even populous counties of Sedgwick, Johnson and Wyandotte — have as many cases.

Finney County, which hosts a Tyson plant, documented 1,170 positive tests and reported five deaths from COVID-19. National Beef has a plant in Seward County, which logged 753 positive cases and one death.

Lansing outbreak

An inmate at the state-run Lansing prison who was five months away from possible release died Saturday from COVID-19.

The man was the fourth inmate to die from an outbreak of the virus at Lansing Correctional Facility. Two of the prison employees also have died from the virus.

The Kansas Department of Corrections said Monday the latest fatality involved a prisoner over the age of 60 who had an underlying medical condition and had been incarcerated for aggravated robbery and first-degree murder since 1989. He tested positive for the virus April 29 and was moved to a hospital on May 1. His earliest possible release date was Oct. 1.

Testing of the entire Lansing prison population found 750 inmates and 88 staff members have COVID-19. Of the inmates who tested positive, 86% didn’t have symptoms.