Kansas reports COVID-19 death; governor declares emergency

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas City-area nursing home resident has become Kansas' first COVID-19-related death, and health officials said Thursday that his case, the state's fifth, means that the coronavirus has now spread locally.

Gov. Laura Kelly announced the death of a man in his 70s who lived in Wyandotte County hours after state and local health officials announced three other new coronavirus cases in neighboring Johnson County, also in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Kansas reported its first case, also from Johnson County, on Saturday.

Kelly declared a state of emergency to make it easier for the state to mobilize its resources, provide aid to local communities and contract for services. She also said during a news conference that the state will ban large gatherings at the Statehouse and limit visitors to only people who have business before the Legislature, which is in session.

News of the man's death came after a flurry of announcements from universities and colleges that they were moving their classes online to help prevent any spread of the new coronavirus. Also, public school officials began contemplating the possibility that that they eventually might have to close schools.

“Every effort is being made to mitigate the spread of the virus, including quarantining all who are known to have been contact with this individual,” Kelly said. “We will use all resources necessary.”

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.

Lee Norman, the governor's health secretary, said officials do not yet know how the man who died was infected with coronavirus before he died Wednesday morning.

But he acknowledged that someone brought the coronavirus into the nursing home, when the state's four previous cases involved people who had become infected traveling out of state. He described the man as “not mobile.”

State and local officials did not identify the nursing home, which has about 80 beds, though not all of them were filled. State officials did not know whether other residents are ill or being tested yet.

Norman said the man went to a local hospital Tuesday with what medical personnel thought were heart problems and was discovered to have a fever. He was not tested for coronavirus until after he died.

“Yes, young people are relatively spared, but in this context it's really critical to understand that they can be carrying the coronavirus,” he said.

The other three cases announced Thursday all involved three men, aged 35 to 65, who all had attended a conference in Florida in late February, said Mary Beverly, interim director of the Johnson County Health Department. They have not been hospitalized and are not seriously ill, she said.

The state's first case was a woman under 50 who was infected while traveling in the Northeast. Johnson County is the state's most populous county, home to sprawling and affluent suburbs and engine of the state's economy.

Meanwhile, with professional and collegiate sports contests canceled, 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.”

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 urged school districts to have students who traveled out of state during spring break to report to the local health department. He also called for “incredible hygiene” in school buildings.

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.

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

Washburn University of Topeka and Johnson County Community College took similar steps as well.


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

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