TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Laura Kelly called a teleconference meeting with top Kansas legislators Wednesday to consider aid for hospitals and funding to cover costs associated with the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Democratic governor scheduled the session only four days after successfully thwarting attempts by top Republicans to revoke an order limiting in-person worship services and other religious gatherings to 10 or fewer people. She’s also faced GOP criticism as the state Department of Labor has struggled to handle a huge surge in unemployment claims from jobless workers.

HELPING HOSPITALS

Kelly called a meeting of the Republican-dominated State Finance Council in hopes of helping hospitals and releasing state funds to the Adjutant General’s Department, which oversees the state’s response to emergencies. The council is the governor and eight top lawmakers, six of them Republicans, and it makes some financial decisions when the GOP-controlled Legislature is not in session.

STATS

Statewide, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, grew Wednesday to 1,494, up 68 cases from Tuesday. The number of deaths increased by seven to 76.

Nursing homes have been particularly hard, with the Clearwater Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Sedgwick County joining those battling outbreaks. The facility has four cases and one death, The Wichita Eagle reports.

It has a one-out-of-five star rating on the Medicare website that ranks long-term care facilities based on past inspections, citations and complaints. Facility owner Willie Novotny said the concerns raised in the Medicare inspection had nothing to do with the outbreak.

Meanwhile, a variety retail store in western Kansas' Garden City called Tienda Variedades Candy has been linked to multiple coronavirus cases, and now public health officials are warning shoppers that they may have been exposed there last month.

Projections conducted by the University of Washington have pushed the COVID-19 peak for Kansas out to April 29. Kelly’s order requiring people to stay home except for essential business, such as grocery store visits, had been set to expire Sunday, but she signaled last week that she would likely extend it. Some communities already are moving to tamp down further on public gatherings, with Manhattan announcing it was closing its pools for the summer.

RACIAL DISPARITIES

Black Kansans have been disproportionately affected, with 114 cases per 100,000 residents, compared to 33 cases per 100,000 white residents as of Wednesday. The data is incomplete, though, with missing racial data for 23% of cases.

Kelly described the trend as “alarming" in a written statement and said that it “points to, among other things, inequalities in healthcare -- some of which could have been addressed had Kansas expanded Medicaid."

NO ELECTRICITY SHUTOFFS

Amid the outbreak, Kansas utility regulators Tuesday extended an emergency order barring utilities from shutting off service to customers who can’t pay their bills right now, The Wichita Eagle reported. The new order prohibits shutoffs of electric and natural gas utilities under state regulation due to nonpayment of bills through May 15.

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