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Kansas reports COVID-19 death; governor declares emergency

A bottle of hand sanitizer sits on the Kansas Senate sergeant at arms' desk in the back of the chamber, Thursday, March 12, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Kansas legislators are pondering whether they should take their annual spring break early because of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
March 12, 2020 - 5:14 PM

TOPEKA, Kan. - Kansas has seen its first COVID-19 death, a man in his 70s who lived in a nursing home in the Kansas City, Kansas, area, state health officials announced Thursday.

The Wyandotte County man's case had been the fifth confirmed novel coronavirus case in the state and the first in Kansas known to have been the result of a local spread of the virus..

The man died at a hospital Wednesday after being admitted with heart problems, said Lee Norman, Kansas secretary of health and environment. He said he did not know how the man was infected.

Gov. Laura Kelly declared a state of emergency so that the state can better free up resources. She said the state will ban large gatherings at the Statehouse and limit visitors to only people who have business before the Legislature.

Kansas announced Thursday that three more residents in the Kansas City area have the new coronavirus, bringing the state's confirmed tally of COVID-19 cases to four, as several universities and colleges announced plans to shift classes online.

The three men, aged 35 to 65, all had attended a conference in Florida in late February, but didn't show symptoms until they returned to Kansas, said Mary Beverly, interim director of the Johnson County Health Department. The residents of Johnson County, which adjoins southern Wyandotte County, have not been hospitalized and are not seriously ill, she said.

The state's first case — a woman under 50 — also was reported in Johnson County earlier this month. Johnson County is the state's most populous county, home to sprawling and affluent suburbs and engine of the state's economy.

All four confirmed cases involve someone who became infected while travelling out of state. The woman had travelled to the Northeast.

“We've had no statewide, no local, transmission," Norman said.

With professional and collegiate sports contests cancelled, Kansas legislators contemplated whether they should take their annual spring break early. Norman said they should remain in session through April 3 as planned, but some lawmakers had doubts, given the regular flow of visitors to the Statehouse. The break is set to last until April 27.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican, said legislative leaders are monitoring developments. As he spoke with two reporters, he put dollops of hand sanitizer gel on the reporters' hands.

“We're like a big Petri dish,” said House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat. “You know, it would take one person to get sick and you could spread it all over the place.”

State Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat, cancelled four town hall meetings with constituents scheduled for the last two weekends in March.

Public school officials also began to contemplate what might happen if health officials directed them to close a school.

Department of Education officials told local school districts Thursday that most of them would have a hard time meeting academic requirements for online courses and that their other options were to make up missed days in late May or ask the department to waive requirements that schools be in session 186 days.

Education Commissioner Randy Watson said the department has cancelled all non-essential travel outside Kansas through April and urged school districts to have students who travelled out of state during spring break to report to the health department.

Watson called for “incredible hygiene” in school buildings and vigilance but added, “Panic is running too rampant across the United States, across our state and in our schools.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

The announcement of the latest coronavirus cases came hours after the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Emporia State University and Wichita State University joined colleges across the country in shifting classes online to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus.

Kansas, Kansas State and Emporia State are on spring break this week. The University of Kansas announced Wednesday and Kansas State and Emporia State said on Thursday that they would delay the start of classes that usually meet in-person until March 23, when the classes will be taught remotely. Kansas State and Emporia State said the remote classes would continue “until further notice.

The University of Kansas said its online classes may continue for several weeks, but its Dole Institute of Politics cancelled its spring programs.

Wichita State, where spring break was scheduled to begin March 23, said Thursday it was cancelling in-person classes next week and moving classes online after spring break.

Kansas State urged students to remain at home, away from the regular campus, unless they can't return home due to travel restrictions.

Washburn University of Topeka announced it was shifting in-person classes through March 20 and that most classes after that date will be conducted online, urging students not to return to campus. Johnson County Community College announced that its campus would be closed to all but essential personnel through March 29, and that all classes would be moved online after that.

The Kansas Board of Regents, which governs the state’s public universities, voted Wednesday night to allow each school to make its own decision.


The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


Hollingsworth reported from Kansas City, Missouri.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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