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Kansas bans gatherings of 50; Kansas City area goes further

March 17, 2020 GMT
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Dr. Lee Norman, left, Kansas secretary of health and environment, left, discusses the coronavirus pandemic during a news conference with Gov. Laura Kelly, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The state is banning public gatherings of 50 or more people for two months. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
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Dr. Lee Norman, left, Kansas secretary of health and environment, left, discusses the coronavirus pandemic during a news conference with Gov. Laura Kelly, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The state is banning public gatherings of 50 or more people for two months. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas on Monday banned public gatherings of 50 or more people for the next two months, but officials in the Kansas City area imposed a stricter rule and ordered some businesses to close over the next two weeks in hopes of limiting the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly also blocked utilities in her state from cutting off services until mid-April and warned that the coronavirus pandemic may force additional statewide restrictions.

Kelly stopped short of ordering bars, restaurants, gyms or other businesses to close, as governors in other states have. Her executive orders also came the same day that President Donald Trump’s administration said people should avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 over the next 15 days.

Officials in the Kansas City area immediately took the new guidance from Trump’s administration to heart. In Kansas City and Jackson County, Missouri, and Johnson and Wyandotte County, Kansas, they ordered the closing of restaurants, bars, taverns, clubs and movie theaters from Tuesday through April 1, with the exception of drive-through, pickup and delivery services. They also banned public gatherings of more than 10 people, although they exempted government, religious and private business activities.

“I don’t think that we are finished putting in place strategies to deal with the fallout from the coronavirus,” Kelly said during a Statehouse news conference.

Kelly and Kansas’ education commissioner recommended that schools remain closed this week, and state universities have started moving to online classes. The Kansas Supreme Court canceled oral arguments on cases it had scheduled for later this month.

Kansas has seen one COVID-19-related death, of a man in his 70s who was a resident of a Kansas City, Kansas, nursing home. Public health officials have confirmed 11 cases so far, and all but two of them have been in the state’s portion of the Kansas City area.

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

The Legislature is pursuing measures to give public schools more flexibility to cancel in-person classes and to allow courts to extend deadlines for trials and filing lawsuits if they are forced to close.

State officials also announced new guidelines calling for nursing homes, to restrict visitors and cancel group activities and dining. The ban on utility disconnections runs through April 15 and includes electricity, water, natural gas and telecommunications companies.

Kelly’s order on public gatherings is in line with guidance issued Sunday night by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But on Monday, Trump announced the stricter guidelines for the short-term.

“The smaller, the safer. I think we just need to follow that,” said Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Health System. “Don’t wait on the government to tell you to do it.”

Kelly said she did not order business closings because many Kansas enterprises already have taken steps to limit crowd sizes.

While the one death occurred in Wyandotte County, eight of the state’s 11 coronavirus cases are from Johnson County, the state’s most populous county, home to affluent and sprawling Kansas City suburbs. Lee Norman, the state’s secretary of health and environment said the last three people infected there had contact with another infected person, demonstrating the need for social distancing.

But officials had some good news: 85 staff and other residents at the home linked to the state’s one COVID-19 related death have all tested negative for coronavirus, said Dr. Allen Greiner, Wyandotte County’s health officer. He said another 20 tests are pending, involving people who had contact with the deceased man.

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