TOPEKA, Kansas — A man in his 70s 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. The man was not among the state’s official count of cases, which had risen to four earlier in the day.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly 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 with cardiac issues and a fever. He died Wednesday morning, and a postmortem test found the COVID-19 virus.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Lee Norman said, officials believe that he was infected by someone who came into the about 80-bed 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.
“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.
Relatively few COVID-19 cases have been identified in Kansas compared with other states. Norman said officials were not “overly surprised” by the death.
“We’ve had nearly daily conversations and we’ve talked for a while now about what will be the new normal in terms of coronavirus,” he said, “both globally in the United States and here in Kansas.”
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.
Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks or email jim (at) kcur (dot) org.
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.