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Kansas limits size of church services heading into Easter

April 7, 2020 GMT
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An obituary in the Kansas City Star newspaper details the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on traditional funeral services, Sunday, April 5, 2020, in Overland Park, Kan. Most funerals now are either small private services with a public memorial service sometime in the distant future or no public service at all in response to social distancing and stay-at-home orders implemented in an effort to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
1 of 5
An obituary in the Kansas City Star newspaper details the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on traditional funeral services, Sunday, April 5, 2020, in Overland Park, Kan. Most funerals now are either small private services with a public memorial service sometime in the distant future or no public service at all in response to social distancing and stay-at-home orders implemented in an effort to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Religious services and funerals in Kansas will be limited to 10 people after state officials identified three coronavirus clusters related to church gatherings, Gov. Laura Kelly announced Tuesday.

A statewide stay-at-home order that Kelly issued last month allowed for religious gatherings as long as social distancing was maintained. It did not specifically restrict the number of people. Her new order takes effect at noon Wednesday, just days before Easter.

“This was a difficult decision and could not come at a more disappointing time,” Kelly said. “Kansans are a community of faithful people. We draw strength from fellowship and prayer. We rely on our pastors and our priests, our rabbis and our imams, and all of our religious leaders for guidance and counsel, especially during times of sorrow, uncertainty and hardship and especially during holy week.”

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She stressed that most churches already had taken action, including by livestreaming services.

“If we have learned anything in recent weeks it is that physical distance does not keep us apart,” Kelly said.

Moti Rieber, executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action, a multifaith issue advocacy organization, said in a tweet that the group supports the governor’s decision.

All three churches where clusters were found are in Wyandotte County, and legal staff for the local government had been looking for ways to take action to safeguard worshipers before Kelly made her announcement.

Statewide, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 grew by 6.5% Tuesday to 900. Twenty-five people have died.

Most infected people develop mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within three weeks, such as fever and cough. But older adults and people with existing health problems are particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Some of the hardest-hit areas have been group living facilities, including a state hospital, prison and several nursing and rehabilitation facilities.

Health officials have said that four people died at the Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation Center in Kansas City, Kansas, and 33 other staff and patients were sickened.

At the Life Care Center of Burlington — the site of the state’s largest outbreak — 41 residents and one staff member have tested positive, Coffey County health officials said. One resident died. Life Care Centers of America also owns a Seattle area nursing home where 40 died and another in Kansas City, Kansas, where one resident died.

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In southeast Kansas, three staff members and a resident at the Parsons State Hospital and Training Center for people with intellectual disabilities have tested positive, the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services said in a news release.

Also, officials announced Tuesday that an outbreak at the Lansing Correctional Facility had grown to eight inmates and nine staff members.

Updated projections from the University of Washington show hospital use is expected to peak in Kansas on April 19, eight days earlier previous projections, with deaths expected to peak at 10 per day on April 23. The model found that Kansas will ultimately need 94 intensive care unit beds; it has 278.

Ascension Via Christi, which operates hospitals and other medical facilities in Wichita, Manhattan, Wamego, Pittsburg and Fort Scott, was worried primarily about staffing.

“The people that are operating the ventilators in a state like Kansas, where people are more precious than products, is a different situation than New York, where people are plentiful and product was scarce. We have a little bit of the reverse situation in Kansas,” said Don King, senior vice president of Ascension and ministry market executive for Kansas.

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Hegeman reported from Belle Plaine.