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COVID-19 Prompts Kansas Governor To Ease Rules For Telemedicine And Medical Shipments

Scott Canon
Kansas News Service

Last week, Gov. Laura Kelly made her state’s children the first in the country sent home for the rest of the school year. This weekend, she took unilateral action to clear the way for more telemedicine, to temporarily license more health care workers and to let heavier trucks move on Kansas highways.

The orders, Kelly’s office said in a news release, “will make sure Kansas families can access needed care and supplies until we have weathered this storm.”

Governors in states where the COVID-19 coronavirus hit hardest and spread most quickly have taken even more drastic action. First, authorities in the Bay Area told residents to isolate themselves at home. Then California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered people throughout the state to stay at home except for the most essential tasks. New York and Illinois have taken similar measures.

And on Saturday, a range of local governments across the Kansas City area — on both the Kansas and Missouri sides — said that starting Tuesday residents would be under orders to isolate in their homes except for a handful of circumstances. Much the same rules will apply in Leavenworth County and Douglas County.

Kelly’s latest executive orders apply to regulations that have long sparked controversy.

In one order that lasts until at least May, she cleared the way for more telemedicine — typically when a physician consults with a patient by phone or video conference rather than face-to-face.

Kelly’s emergency action waives some existing rules to allow doctors, including those licensed in other states but not in Kansas, to prescribe drugs. Without that order, some treatments could only be ordered after in-person visits.

She also gave the state’s Board of Healing arts the power to grant temporary licenses to health care workers to help with the crush on hospitals and clinics expected if the spread of the virus continues to escalate.

As of Sunday afternoon, the state had 64 confirmed cases among Kansas residents, two more from non-residents in the state and one death each in Johnson and Wyandotte counties.

Her order did not apply to abortions. The state has seen political and legal battles over telemedicine abortions, where doctors use remote connections to guide patients taking the abortion pill.

The governor also took action she argued would speed the delivery of medical supplies to, and through, the state.

Public health officials across the country have been warning, with increasing alarm, about a coming shortage of the medical gear needed to deal with the pandemic. In particular, the country is running dangerously low on protective gear to protect medical professionals from contracting the new coronavirus.

Kelly’s action allows trucks to carry 10% above their licensed weight, up to 90,000 pounds, for the next two weeks. The shipping industry has long argued for higher weight limits to make its hauls more efficient. Critics say heavier trucks more easily damage highways and that heftier loads create more violent accidents.

The relaxed trucking rules only apply to shipments somehow related to reactions to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Expediting the transport of resources into the state will enable us to meet the increasing demand for medical supplies, groceries — and yes,” Kelly’s office said in a statement, “even toilet paper.”

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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