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Kansas lawmakers to meet online to prep for session on virus

May 9, 2020 GMT
The waning moon rises beyond a sign supporting health care workers on top of an office building, Friday, May 8, 2020, in Overland Park, Kan. The city remains under stay-at-home orders until May 11 in an effort to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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The waning moon rises beyond a sign supporting health care workers on top of an office building, Friday, May 8, 2020, in Overland Park, Kan. The city remains under stay-at-home orders until May 11 in an effort to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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The waning moon rises beyond a sign supporting health care workers on top of an office building, Friday, May 8, 2020, in Overland Park, Kan. The city remains under stay-at-home orders until May 11 in an effort to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers are turning to virtual meetings to prepare for an upcoming session aimed at dealing with the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, as researchers examine the state’s wastewater to look for clues about how the virus is spreading.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr, a Kansas City-area Republican, announced Friday that the virtual meetings, which will be broadcast live on the Legislature’s YouTube channel, can begin before the Legislature reconvenes on May 21.

“We’re going to take care of COVID-related legislation that legitimately serves the best interests of our families, our first responders and our economy,” Ryckman said.

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Among the issues that committees are discussing are the allocation of federal relief funding and the Kansas Department of Labor’s dated information technology infrastructure, which has been overwhelmed by the surge in unemployment claims.

CORONAVIRUS IN WASTEWATER

The virus, which is shed through urine and feces, doesn’t survive in wastewater, and drinking water remains safe. But looking for its genetic material can help health officials determine how widespread it is in their communities.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said it is working with the University of Kansas School of Engineering on the effort, which initially was tested in Massachusetts and the Netherlands.

Genetic material from the virus was found in 10 of 12 wastewater plants that were studied last month. Researchers, however, weren’t able to use the data to make estimates of the extent of infection in those communities.

“There is much more we need to refine in the methodology to assure quality control and that will start with further testing of samples.” Tom Stiles, KDHE’s Bureau of Water director, said in a news release. “We don’t know how quantitative this approach can be, but we are hoping it gives us a means to corroborate our COVID testing of individuals, particularly in counties where positive cases have been low.”

NUMBERS

The health department reported Friday that the state had 6,501 confirmed or probable cases of coronavirus, up 357 from Thursday. It reported an additional five COVID-19-related deaths, up 3.4% to 152 total since early March. A Johns Hopkins University site lists the number of deaths for Kansas as 168. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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Many of the new cases stem from an outbreak at the state’s largest prison in Lansing, which is testing all its inmates and staff. With 90% of the inmate testing completed, 690 of about 1.700 inmates are positive, with 598 of them showing no symptoms. Three inmates have died, and 88 staff members are positive.

For some infected people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe illness or death. But for most people, it causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks.