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Governor urges GOP-led state council to extend declaration

September 10, 2020 GMT

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas will face a dramatic reduction in coronavirus-related services that would put residents’ lives at risk if a state council does not approve extending a state disaster declaration, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said Thursday.

The State Finance Council, which is dominated by Republicans, is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss extending the declaration before it expires on Tuesday. Failure to extend the declaration will prevent the state from leveraging critical resources, Kelly said at a news conference.

“In other words, these nine members of the State Finance Council will effectively decide if the nearly 3 million people living in our state will be able to access the tools they need to stay healthy, stay fed, stay in their homes as the virus continues to rage around us,” the Democratic governor said.

Kansas Adjutant General David Weishaar, who oversees the state’s emergency response, detailed how several emergency agencies have provided services throughout the pandemic, which he said would end if the declaration is not extended.

He said extending the declaration would ensure “uninterrupted deployment” of several services, such personal protective equipment, meals packed for food banks, and community-based testing. And the state emergency command center, which is currently staffed seven days a week, would be cut back to a staff duty officer answering calls if the declaration is not extended, he said

Kelly said Deborah Birx, a top coronavirus advisor for the White House, told her and several local health and elected officials Thursday that Kansas remains a red zone for coronavirus cases and is eighth in the nation in positivity in COVID-19 cases. Birx urged the officials to impose mitigation efforts, which she said is the only way to contain the virus until a vaccine is approved.

A spokeswoman for Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a Republican, said she would not respond to the governor’s comment until Friday’s meeting.

Earlier Thursday, Kelly testified remotely before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee that the state faces “drastic and damaging” cuts if the federal government does not provide more funds in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kelly said forcing state and local governments to further reduce their budgets when revenue has already dropped will hamper the state’s coronavirus response and make Kansas more vulnerable in future crises, The Kansas City Star reported.

“We will need significantly more support from our federal partners to protect our institutions from drastic and damaging cuts,” Kelly said.

Kansas has already received $1.2 billion in aid, which generally must be used for pandemic-related needs, not to help overall budgets.

Also Thursday, the state health department said those who traveled to Aruba or attended out of state gatherings for more than 500 people will no longer be expected to quarantine when they return to Kansas.

Dr. Lee Norman, the state’s top health official, said attending large gatherings in a single place such as a stadium or large arena is still not recommended, but it is acceptable if appropriate precautions such as social distancing and wearing masks are practiced.

The state corrections department announced Thursday that an inmate at Larned Correctional Facility died from COVID-19 — the fifth state prison inmate to die from the coronavirus.

Junior Lee Chrismon, 68, died in a hospital Monday. Chrisman, who was serving a 52-month sentence on drug charges out of Montgomery County, tested positive Aug. 15 and also had underlying health conditions, the agency said.

Four inmates at Lansing Correctional Facility also have died from COVID-19, along with two staff members at Lansing and one employee at the Topeka Correctional Center.

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Overall, 1,750 inmates and 238 employees have tested positive for COVID-19, which has been found at all 10 of the state prison department’s facilities.

Kansas reported 47,410 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 495 deaths on Wednesday, an increase of 494 new cases and 10 deaths since Monday. The case numbers are updated only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.