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Kansas governor orders residents to stay home to curb virus

March 28, 2020 GMT
A man gathers his groceries after checking out at a Hy-Vee grocery store Thursday, March 26, 2020 in Overland Park, Kan. Stores have begun installing plexiglass shields in checkout aisles as a precaution to protect clerks and help stop the spread the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
A man gathers his groceries after checking out at a Hy-Vee grocery store Thursday, March 26, 2020 in Overland Park, Kan. Stores have begun installing plexiglass shields in checkout aisles as a precaution to protect clerks and help stop the spread the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly issued a statewide order Saturday requiring people to stay in their homes to slow the spread of the coronavirus, waiting until nearly three-quarters of the state’s residents were already facing such directives.

Kansas joins nearly two dozen states in ordering residents to stay at home. The Kansas order is effective at 12:01 a.m. Monday through April 19.

“As governor I left the decision to local health departments for as long as possible,” Kelly said. She called the current “patchwork” of local orders problematic and said she believes the statewide order was necessary because Kansas “isn’t ready for the peak” of the pandemic.

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The state health department on Saturday reported a fifth death, someone from Johnson County in suburban Kansas City. Meanwhile, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported that a 70-year-old woman from Shawnee County, who had been hospitalized since Monday, has also died. The state count does not include that case.

The state health department also updated the number of confirmed cases to 261, 59 more than the 202 reported as of Friday. Kelly said projections are that the number in Kansas could reach 900 over the next week.

Kelly, a Democrat, issued the order for Kansas’ 2.9 million residents after at least 25 counties, including all of the state’s most populous ones, issued their own stay-at-home orders. Kelly said the new order supersedes the local orders.

The order directs people to stay at home except for essential business such as trips to the grocery store or to get medical care. Outdoor exercise is allowed as long as social distancing is maintained, Kelly said.

“You can leave your house. You can still go outside. You are not under house arrest,” Kelly said.

The order comes as some segments of the U.S. population say state and federal governments are trampling on freedoms central to American life in the name of protecting public health.

Conservatives in the Republican-controlled Legislature said Kelly overreached this month when she ordered public schools closed for the rest of the semester and complained that the state’s economy was being damaged too much. Legislative leaders have the power to revoke her orders related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman, Majority Leader Dan Hawkins and Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, all Republicans, said in a joint statement that the new order “will no doubt impact our families and our businesses. As members of the Legislative Coordinating Council we have a duty to carefully assess this executive order and the reasons for it. Over the coming days we will consult with the Attorney General, health care professionals, the business community, and the state’s emergency management team to make sure we are on the right path.”

Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said she was concerned about a “one size fits all” solution.

“I want to assure Kansans, particularly those in rural areas, the legislature is actively working to thoroughly review the Governor’s orders and ensure the specific needs of rural Kansans are addressed,” Wagle said in a statement.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in a few weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said more than 100 complaints about alleged price gouging related to the coronavirus have been filed since the state’s anti-profiteering law was triggered by Kelly’s declaration of a state emergency on March 12.

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Associated Press reporter Jim Salter in O’Fallon, Missouri, contributed to this report.