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Wyandotte County Man Dies Of Coronavirus, 3 New Cases Reported In Johnson County

Jim McLean
Kansas News Service
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Thursday night, announcing the first death from COVID-19 in the state.

Update: 7:30 p.m.

A 70-year-old man who lived in a long-term care facility in Wyandotte County is the first known death from the new coronavirus in Kansas, state officials said Thursday night.

Kansas also has declared a state of emergency, which gives the government more power to marshal resources and triggers the state's response plan.

The man was admitted to Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, on Tuesday and died Wednesday morning. A postmortem test found the COVID-19 virus.

Health officials believe that he was infected by someone who came into the long-term care facility, which would mean it's the first confirmed case of local transmission. That means the virus is circulating in the community.

The man was not among the state's official count of cases, which had risen to four earlier in the day. State officials were expected to give more details at a news conference on Thursday evening.

Earlier Thursday, Kansas reported three new coronavirus cases, all of them in Johnson County.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said at a news conference Thursday that the new cases aren’t related to the first case, a woman under 50.

The three new cases are all men who had gone to the same conference in Florida. State officials didn’t say which conference the men attended, though they came back to the area in late February and showed symptoms in early March.

Relatively few COVID-19 cases have been identified in Kansas compared with other states. The first case is also believed to be travel-related. The Johnson County woman, who was announced to have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus on Saturday, was admitted to the the University of Kansas Hospital after self-isolating at home.

“It's going to be what we would consider a classic public health contact tracing to do the detective work to find out where this came from,” Norman said.

Norman also said that the state’s lab is still doing about 15 tests per day, adding “we don’t expect any shortage of testing materials.”

The head of the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services, Laura Howard, stressed that the man who died was among the part of the population most vulnerable to the virus: older and immunocompromised people. She said the state is planning to add to federal guidance about visitors and entry protocols to care facilities, and reminded the public to “honor those restrictions.”

“I know it can be frustrating if you have a loved one who may be in one of these facilities, but know that those who are young, those who are healthy, who may not even have very much impact from COVID-19 can be the very carrier that puts the most vulnerable at risk,” she said, adding that “short-term things, they may impact the ability to interact as personally with our loved ones, are well worth it as we preserve the life and safety of our entire community.”

COVID-19 usually causes mild to moderate symptoms, like a fever or cough. Most people with mild symptoms recover in two weeks. More severe cases, found in older adults and people with health issues, can have up to six weeks’ recovery time.

Kelly hoped to calm any fear about the spread of the virus.

“It is also worth repeating to all Kansans. This is not a time to panic,” she said. “Please continue to use common sense hand-washing, coughing into your elbow, staying home when ill.”

And Kansas City, Kansas, Mayor Dave Alvey said that the metro area has dealt with and gotten past “public health challenges before.”

“I'm very confident in the team of people who are looking at this minute by minute, always seeking to adjust the measures we need to take to assure that our public is kept safe and healthy,” he said.

The state expects to issue more guidance about legislative business and other things Friday.

Meanwhile, Missouri health officials have identified two "presumptive positive" cases, one in the Saint Louis area and another in Springfield. Both are women in their 20s who recently had traveled to Europe. 

As of the end of the day on Wednesday, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported that a total of 42 people had been tested, with 41 negative results.

Meanwhile, Missouri health officials have identified two "presumptive positive" cases, one in the Saint Louis area and another in Springfield. Both are women in their 20s who recently had traveled to Europe. 

More locally, many organizations in the Kansas City area have taken steps to prevent the spread of the virus.

Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Quinton Lucas announced a state of emergency on Thursday morning. All events during the next 21 day involving 1000 or more people must be delayed or canceled. The University of Kansas, Kansas State University, the University of Missouri in Columbia and Kansas City University are switching to on-line classes.

Alex Smith is a health reporter for KCUR. You can reach him by email at alexs@kcur.org.

Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for 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. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks or email jim (at) kcur (dot) org.

Jim McLean is a political correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration based at KCUR with other public media stations across Kansas. You can email him at jim@kcur.org.
As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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