Wyandotte County extends stay-at-home order through May 10

On Thursday night, Wyandotte County health officials announced they were extending the stay-at-home order until May 10. The order is at the left in this view of the four zones of restarting the economy from the Unified Government. After the stay-at-home order is over, Wyandotte County could move into the “red zone.” (UG graphic)

In the space of a few minutes Thursday night, Gov. Laura Kelly announced the stay-at-home order in Kansas would end May 3, while Wyandotte County announced it would extend the stay-at-home order here through May 10.

Gov. Kelly said in a statewide broadcast that as the state’s order ends on May 3, the state would implement the first of three phases. That first phase in Kansas still restricts gatherings of people to 10 or fewer, plus it has many other restrictions.

The phase would last at least 14 days before a second phase might be implemented, according to the governor. The governor would evaluate various health measurements before deciding whether to move to the next phase.

“I am incredibly proud of how the people of Kansas met the moment and answered the call to hunker down,” Gov. Kelly said in her speech.

“It has been a difficult time that has taken a painful toll … financially, emotionally, physically, spiritually and professionally on Kansans,” Gov. Kelly said. “But because Kansans took this seriously, COVID-19 has inflicted far less devastation on Kansas than it did in other states.”

Dr. Allen Greiner, chief medical officer for Wyandotte County, said during a Unified Government Commission meeting tonight that Wyandotte County’s stay-at-home order through midnight May 10 has a lot in common with other areas of the Kansas City metropolitan area. Johnson County announced a similar stay-at-home order through May 10 earlier today. Kansas City, Missouri, has announced a stay-at-home order through May 15, but with a soft reopening of some businesses on May 6.

“Because there is no vaccine for COVID-19 at this time, and efforts to expand testing and contact tracing continue, we have developed a longer-term phased approach with prolonged intermittent levels of social distancing and surveillance in order to protect public health in Wyandotte County,” Dr. Greiner said. “The decision to extend the Stay-At-Home period by issuing a new order is based on what the virus is telling us. Wyandotte County has been hardest hit by COVID-19 in this region, so we must be especially cautious in order to protect the health and wellness of everyone in our community. We are making progress, but we are not in the clear yet.”

Dr. Greiner, who announced the extension of the stay-at-home order before the governor announced the end of the state’s order, said a Wyandotte County task force has been working hard on a reopening plan for the past week, meeting with community leaders and public health officials. About 10 days ago the Core4 group of local governments in the Kansas City area decided on May 15 as an end to the stay-at-home order, but also said if the data looked better, they might move the date up, he said.

The date was moved up to May 10 because they are not seeing large increases in hospitalizations nor in deaths, he said, although there has been a slight increase in some areas.

He said they are using an image of a stoplight with red, yellow and green to depict the next phases. On May 11, Wyandotte County will move to the “red zone,” he said, which will have requirements on all sorts of entities.

Wyandotte County will rely on the data to determine when to move on to the next phase, according to Dr. Greiner.

Wyandotte County’s COVID-19 positive cases are much higher than surrounding communities in the case per 100,000 population comparisons, according to Health Department officials. Currently, according to the UG Health Department, Wyandotte County has a 27 percent positive rate in its testing, and Dr. Greiner would like to see that rate decline before moving to the next stage.

Dr. Greiner mentioned four areas that were necessary to moving ahead, including rapid diagnostic capacity, adequate health care facilities, personal protective equipment and contact tracing.

UG Health Department officials estimated they needed $1.24 million for expenses including testing, PPE, contact tracing, project management, a COVID call line, communications and other expenses. Officials estimated that 85 percent of that amount could be reimbursable by federal and state funding.

The new Wyandotte County stay-at-home order will be similar to the state of Kansas stay-at-home order, with the same businesses that were essential under the state order continuing to be essential under the local order, according to the UG.

Under the stay-at-home local order, residents are to remain at home except to conduct essential activities, according to the UG. Those at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 are urged to stay in their residence, except for medical appointments or health care. Those who are sick are asked to stay at home, unless seeking medical care.

The order includes a requirement to practice social distancing during essential activities, maintaining six feet of distance from everyone other than household members. Businesses and operations, except essential businesses, are required to cease activities, according to the UG. However, individuals are allowed to work at home in the nonessential businesses, not having in-person contact with others.

In answer to a question from Commissioner Tom Burroughs, UG Attorney Ken Moore said that violating the health orders, including the stay-at-home order, is a misdemeanor, with a possible $500 fine and 30 days in jail. Also, authorities said the local police have been providing education and guidance to residents on this most of the time, instead of fines.

The new local stay-at-home order will take precedence in Wyandotte County over the other orders once the state’s stay-at-home order expires at 11:59 p.m. May 3.

New state rules

The entire state, however, is moving on to Phase One of the recovery plan, where many restrictions are still in place. Gatherings of no more than 10 people are allowed; masks are strongly encouraged in public; persons must maintain 6 feet of social distance; working from home is strongly encourage; anyone with symptoms is required to stay home; nonessential travel is minimized; and individuals must follow state travel and quarantine guidelines for travel to high-risk areas.

In Phase One at the state level, activities not allowed to open include community centers, large entertainment venues of 2,000 and more; fairs, festivals, parades and graduations, public swimming pools; organized sports facilities and summer camps. Also, not allowed are bars and nightclubs, except for curbside and carryout; nontribal casinos; indoor leisure spaces; fitness centers and gyms; personal service businesses where close contact cannot be avoided.

Child care facilities and libraries are allowed to operate in Phase One at the state level.

However, Wyandotte County for now will remain under the “stay-at-home” order, which is more restrictive.

Kansas had 4,238 positive COVID-19 cases on Thursday, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, an increase of 500 cases and four new deaths. (KDHE map)

Numbers of cases increase in Kansas today

Today, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 4,238 cases and 129 deaths from 80 counties. It was an increase of 500 cases and four deaths over Wednesday.

Wyandotte County reported 674 cases; Johnson County, 464 cases; and Leavenworth County, 356 cases. Wyandotte County had 677 cases on the KDHE list and 674 on the UG list.

In other areas of the state, Ford County had 675 cases; Seward County, 500 cases; Sedgwick County, 372 cases; Finney County, 317 cases; Lyon County, 200 cases; and Shawnee County, 117 cases.

To see the UG Commission meeting Thursday on COVID-19, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bucOg3IQWU.

To view the Gov. Laura Kelly’s speech outlining the Kansas plan, visit https://www.facebook.com/GovLauraKelly/videos/367751797500343/

Dr. Greiner’s order on extending the stay-home order through May 10 in Wyandotte County is online at https://www.wycokck.org/WycoKCK/media/Health-Department/Documents/Communicable%20Disease/COVID19/LocalHealthOfficerOrderRegardingRESTARTWYCOAdoption043020.pdf.

To see a news release with more information on the Wyandotte County order, visit https://www.wycokck.org/WycoKCK/media/Health-Department/Documents/Communicable%20Disease/COVID19/LocalStayAtHomeReStartGuidancePressRelease043020.pdf.

The governor’s plan on reopening Kansas is at

The governor’s executive order implementing Phase One is at

The governor’s order reissuing and extending various orders is at

The Kansas COVID-19 website is at https://covid.ks.gov/.

The Kansas COVID-19 resource page is at https://govstatus.egov.com/coronavirus

The UG’s COVID-19 webpage is at https://alpha.wycokck.org/Coronavirus-COVID-19-Information.

Information from the CDC is at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/.

Federal appeals court says Kansas can’t demand proof of citizenship from voters

A federal appeals court says it is unconstitutional for Kansas to require proof of citizenship to vote

by Jim McLean, Kansas News Service

Topeka, Kansas — The Kansas law requiring people to prove they are U.S. citizens before registering to vote is unconstitutional, a federal court has ruled.

The decision handed down Wednesday by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals panel means that no proof of citizenship is needed ahead of this year’s August primary and November general elections.

It stymies an effort by the state to reinstate the law, which a lower court overturned in 2016 in response to a challenge filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Kansas can choose to appeal or ask for an en banc ruling.

“This decision safeguarding the rights of over 30,000 Kansas voters — including our clients — to participate in the 2020 upcoming elections free from unconstitutional burdens is a victory for democracy in Kansas,” ACLU of Kansas Executive Director Nadine Johnson.

Kansas lawmakers passed the proof-of-citizenship law in 2013 at the urging of former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who at the time was building a national reputation for his efforts to combat what he claimed was pervasive voter fraud.

Later, as the leader of President Donald Trump’s now-defunct voter fraud commission, Kobach repeated the president’s unsubstantiated claim that millions of undocumented immigrants illegally voted in the 2016 election.

The appeals court said in its ruling that voter fraud isn’t a significant problem in Kansas. Between 1999 and 2013, a total of 39 non-citizens living in Kansas registered to vote, mostly due to administrative mistakes. At the time, that was 0.002% of the state’s more than 1.76 million registered voters.

The panel also said that both Kobach and his successor, current Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, “failed to show that a substantial number of non-citizens registered to vote.”

The relatively few cases of fraud, the justices said, don’t justify the burden the law imposed on the 31,089 voters who had their registration applications canceled or suspended between 2013 and 2016.

Schwab, a Republican elected in 2018, issued a one-sentence statement Wednesday, saying his office was “thoroughly reviewing” the ruling and conferring with Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt on “how to move forward.”

Schwab and Schmidt have two options: appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or request an en banc ruling from all the justices on the 10th Circuit bench. Wednesday’s ruling was issued by two members of a three-member panel that heard arguments in 2019 (the third has died).

Kobach, who is running for the GOP nomination for a U.S. Senate seat, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But on Twitter, he wrote that the decision was “the essence of judicial activism,” and that the U.S. Supreme Court would be “highly likely” to overturn the decision.

Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, urged Schwab to “turn the page on Kris Kobach’s sorry legacy of voter suppression” by not appealing the ruling.

Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks or email jim (at) kcur (dot) org.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.
See more at https://www.kcur.org/news/2020-04-29/federal-appeals-court-says-kansas-cant-demand-proof-of-citizenship-from-voters.

BPU halts disconnections of customers through May 31

The Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Public Utilities has announced it won’t disconnect customers for nonpayment through May 31.

According to a spokesman, the BPU has extended the moratorium on disconnecting electric and water service to customers.

It’s too early to tell right now how the BPU has been affected, said David Mehlhaff, chief communications officer for the BPU.

There are some customers who are behind in their payments, he added. He is advising customers to do their best to keep up with their payments to avoid getting too far behind, and contact the BPU customer service office at 913-573-9190 for a utilty representative to assist them.

Customers who are having trouble with their payments could make payment arrangements or be put in touch with a hardship program, he added.

The moratorium on disconnections is a result of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a number of people unemployed because of a stay-at-home order to stop the spread of the disease. An order from the governor suspended all utility disconnects through May 1.

Mehlhaff said it is too early at this point to know the exact financial losses the utility could be experiencing in the past month.

The BPU also recently asked customers not to go up to utility workers who are in the field, but to try to maintain social distancing with them for safety reasons.

The BPU has had two positive COVID-19 cases among staff, including one in customer service.

Mehlhaff said a plan has been put in place to address COVID-19, and the BPU lobby still will be closed a while because of social distancing. The BPU buildings currently are closed to the public. The utility is following guidelines from the CDC to prevent the spread of the disease, according to the spokesman.

Customers have been able to go inside the door of the administration building to pay their bills at a kiosk, but that is being limited to one customer at a time.

Mehlhaff said the BPU is trying to offer many different ways for customers to pay their bills, other than coming into the lobby. There are BPU bill kiosks at some area grocery stores, he said. Customers also can pay by mail, online at www.bpu.com and by telephone at 1-855-278-2455.

Those who have been financially affected by COVID-19 may call the BPU at 913-573-9145 to set up payment arrangements or for other payment options available.

The BPU is continuing to send out reminders including collection notices and calls about past due balances, even though it is not disconnecting utilities currently.