WICHITA (AP) — Gov. Laura Kelly took steps Tuesday to address what she described as hundreds of thousands of calls to the state labor office by making it easier for Kansans to receive unemployment benefits as the number of coronavirus cases in the state continued to grow.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said it had confirmed 428 cases Tuesday, up from 369 a day earlier, and it identified a Kansas City church conference two weeks ago as a point of exposure for multiple people. Johnson County reported a third death from the virus, pushing the state's total to 10.
Kelly announced Kansas would temporarily waive the one-week waiting period for people to receive unemployment benefits and waive the requirement that they seek employment.
"It's right that we are working hard on the medial challenges this virus represents, but we also must work on the economic fallout created by this disease," Kelly told reporters.
Unemployment claims have skyrocketed from 1,800 a week at the beginning of the month to 60,000 as of Sunday. The Kansas Department of Labor has been inundated by roughly 230,000 calls each day, which the governor likened to every resident of Topeka, Lawrence and Emporia calling the agency daily.
Kelly urged people to file online, noting the department got 877,000 calls on Monday.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The state health department identified a church conference in Kansas City, Kansas, as a place of exposure for at least seven people who have tested positive for COVID-19. The agency continues to investigate and said people who attended the Kansas East Jurisdiction's 2020 Ministers and Workers Conference at the Miracle Temple Church of Christ from March 16 to March 22 may have been exposed to the virus.
Melody Thuston, a spokewoman for the Kansas East Jurisdiction, said in a statement that organizers were made aware while concluding the conference that two people had tested positive for the coronavirus. She said attending members were notified and urged to self-quarantine, contact their physicians and comply with federal heath protocols if they experienced symptoms. She said the organization ensured throughout the meeting that it adhered to all county and state government regulations.
The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, issued a statement urging anyone who attended the conference and develops symptoms of COVID-19 stay home and report their symptoms.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell is asking the the commission on Wednesday to strip abortion clinics from the list of “essential” businesses that can stay open during the pandemic, thus shuttering the Trust Women Wichita Clinic, The Wichita Eagle reported.
Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of the clinic, called the proposal “unethical” and “unconscionable."
O'Donnell presented the proposal even as federal judges temporarily blocked similar efforts in other states. He said women have been traveling to the Wichita clinic from out of state after the governor in neighboring Oklahoma issued a stay-at-home order last week that effectively bans most abortions.
The Kansas Supreme Court last year declared access to abortion a "fundamental" right under the state constitution, and Kelly said Tuesday that women's reproductive centers are considered a health care facility and therefore essential.